Thursday, 10 April 2014

Latest technology? Nah.... I'll stick with my Gossen.

Ohhhh.... glowing and black. Must be awesome.
What you see above is an interesting little device that is referred to as a 'Robotic printer'. I spotted this Kickstater item over HERE and I found myself very curious. Check out the video on the site, and prepare to be amazed. Yeah, to be honest it is pretty awesome.

Sort of.

Actually, not really. I already have something that does mostly the same job and looks damn sexier.

Hey, I love that bright line through the middle. 

So did you watch the video? Well, if you didn't here's the run-down. It is a device that is slightly larger than my clenched fist that allows you to print on paper what you are writing on your computer or phone.

Lovely! So you can take your Macbook into a cafe, and print out your writing while you sit and sip on a delicious brew. All to the speed of a printer that shuffles along the page slower than I've seen patients walk along hospital corridors using a Zimmer frame.

BYO keyboard, n' power.

Now don't get me wrong. I can see some instances where this is a useful idea - especially in locations where printers and power are hard to access. Well, sort of power. After all, your Macbook and printer are likely to run out of juice before you finish printing a page and will need to charge it up.

And let's not talk about the comparison of ink in a ribbon v's a cartridge.

I love kickstarter projects. I always see some amazing and creative ideas. And this really is amazing and creative. I wish them all the luck with their venture. And for the maker community, this is actually really cool.

But as a typewriter owner, I just found myself screaming at the screen "Just use a f**king typewriter" as the printer 'turtled' across the page.

So, how does it compare to my Gossen.... 

Robo printer
Gossen Tippa
Can put words on paper
We’re not here for speed
Letters instantly printed
Oh my battery……
I can go all night, baby!
Ink capacity
My ink is worth more than gold.
Oh, 6 months of persistent writing.
Potential functional life
90 day limited warrantee
I’ve been working since the 50’s
Needs  a supply of paper
Spell check
Should have done better at school, kid.
Cool value
Wow! My mother had…..
I so love the sound of…
Drop survivability
Just buy a new one.
I’m tough, but I can still bend.
Can do graphics
Give me a ruler and a pen and I’ll be quicker.
Up to 6kg (with MB & PS)
Initial cost value
Resale value
meh... I'm fadtastic.
$60 +
My noise is part of my charm.
Table space needed
Sorry, you can’t sit here.
Pull up a chair next to me!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Packing typewriters like a... packing sort of person.

Words can't express how much I feel frustrated about packing this house.

But a string of letters can!



Now I've got that out, I can talk about my current attempts at packing typewriters.

While the baxter boxes from work weren't large enough, I did find that I can use boxes used to transport Burettes to great effect. Bunch up and throw in unused items from your wardrobe (note to self: Send that stuff to charity once I get to my destination) and you have a pretty effective packing regime.

These boxes are pretty cool. They have cardboard inserts that go into them so that you can re-enforce them and protect the items inside. I've been using them so far for packing picture frames.

The tub on the top of the two boxes has been filled with bowls and plates, but no typewriters. 

So I suddenly found myself with a house that was a little.... typewriter lonely. While the Burette boxes hold up to two portable (not traveller sized) typewriters, some of the machines are sadly a little too big to be accompanied. by anything.

Hermes.... why are you so damn big? 

And sometimes I have some machines that seem to fit together nicely, which I then stuff full of table cloths or old clothing to stop them moving around.

So... next, add padding....  

Jane hasn't been here for months now, but you know what? It didn't feel lonely till I'd Packed all the typewriters I like writing with away. 

Fortunately a couple were too wide to put in these boxes and pack up. So while I'm progressing with my packing, I stopped to write a couple of brief letters to some people overseas to just let them now what is going on. 

So, I've been getting acquainted with an old beauty. My Olympia SM1

Oh yeah. and I was catching up with the Australian current affairs series '4 corners' while I was writing. Bit of a Monday tradition really. 

So soon this typewriter will be packed up too, and I'll be typeless. Well, at least as far as portables are concerned. 

Now.....  let's get onto figuring out those standards. 

*    *    *

Meanwhile, back in the typosphere... 

Brian Brumfield is trying to scrounge up the funds to send a typewriter to John Lavery that he's been hunting. John runs the 'McTaggart's workshop' blog, and is a good friend of both mine and Rob Messengers and has helped fix several machines of mine. John and I have talked about this machine a couple of times, and personally I find John's passion for these heavyweight electrical typewriters a little bewildering. But it's his thing so who am I to question why! He's got quite a collection of these 25+kg monsters and I think it will sit right at home with it. 

The trouble is that it seems to be quite expensive to post over from the USA. So Brian has started up a fundraiser to try and pool the cash to do it - mainly because he can't wear the cost of doing it on his own. 

I've already thrown in a yellow note, but if others are feeling a little generous  and would like to contribute - say, less than it usually costs to buy a meal at McDonalds... then we can get John (who is a pensioner) this machine. 

John has done many repairs for both Rob and myself, and I would love to see him get his hands on this typewriter. 

Have a great evening! 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Oz Typewriter effect and lost opportunities.

In the last year or so many of the typosphere have noted that there's been a dramatic increase in the price of typewriters sites like eBay and Etsy. While the market for these machines is growing and typewriters are no longer seen as valueless antiques sitting in the garage, there's naturally been a steady increase in interest in information on typewriters online.

When Rob shut down his blog last week, we had an interesting opportunity to get a small insight as to what kind of impact our blogs are having on this this audience. I've been quietly watching for cues on what my own blog does with a new generation of collectors, but the shutdown of Rob's blog gave me an larger insight of its cultural impact.

This is graph from my blogger page that shows the activity on my blog over the past week.

This graph depicts the activity of views on my blog on a more or less hourly basis. As you can see the peak viewing point over an hour was 40 individual views, while there were Interesting activity lulls. 

My blog tends to receive a fair few hits from Rob's blog, but his blog isn't typically seen in my top 10 referrer sites. The typosphere page usually sits at number two, with the bulk of hits to my blog coming from people looking at other pages in my own blog. In essence, I am my own greatest referrer. 

But while Rob's blog was down, something did happen to the activity on my blog. 

As you can see on the graph above, while Rob's blog was down I had a period where activity in some hours dropped frequently to nothing, while it only had occasional peaks of interest. During this time there was a flurry of posting on Facebook and in the forums about Rob's blog being down. 

As the period progressed, I started to get steady increases of interest that would drop off suddenly. But when Rob's blog went back up, there was a flurry of activity. 

Which made what happened next also interesting. 

It took a day or so for the forum readers to catch up with the news that Rob's blog was back online. But about the time that the postings in Yahoo and Facebook stopped, there was a 6 hour period when my own blog seemed to grind to a halt before the two-spike 'evening shift' pattern started again. See how with every peak there's a smaller occurring peak before it? I suspect that's the time difference between the east and west coast of the USA coming online in the evening to do some reading after work. Unfortunately the scale on blogger's graphs is hard to interpret accurately. 

Notice those spikes missing anywhere? On the 31st I had absolutely no sign of that 'evening spike'.

Let's have a look across a broader period. 

In this graph you can see the I have a very clear 'Sunday reader' spike. This is why I tend to post most of my blogs in Australia on a Saturday night, or a Sunday day so that it corresponds with the reading periods of the audience both here in Australia and overseas. 

It is also the day that eBay makes their most money, as the sales items on that day tend to sell higher as there's a larger amount of people around to bid against items. 

While Rob's blog was closed my Sunday peak was less, and the general readership over the week decreased notably. 

This has also corresponded with another interesting trend that I've seen occurring. There is a notable impact of blog entries on interest in specific typewriter sales. For example: When I presented my completed chrome Royal on my blog some time ago, a second hand dealer in Singapore rushed to get a similar machine which they then proudly displayed online. When I displayed my Apothecary typewriter, the same seller also highlighted a machine they themselves had owned. 

Remember when I displayed my burgundy Groma Kolibri? Well, a unit that had sat unsold for a while on Etsy at quite a high price, sold the next day. I've seen very similar things happen with machines displayed on other people's blogs. 

What I'm seeing is a 'drive to buy' that is driven by 'typewriter culture' blogs like my own. What I write about on Sunday sells on Monday. 

Rob's blog has a massive impact on this 'typewriter culture' audience, and his blog can shift attitudes of larger groups. To all intents and purposes it is very similar to the impact that Oprah has across consumer culture. Rob's blog doesn't rule the typosphere, but it has enough gravity to change the trajectory of things that come close. 

This has happened as a result of one single thing: The sheer size of Rob's blog. While the quality writing and research has brought an audience, the frequency of Rob's writing has meant that Rob's blog gets far more reads than every other. The sheer volume of Rob's blog creates enough hits through google with both data searches and images that it is constantly near the top of almost every typewriter search topic. Were Rob to stop writing his blog tomorrow, this wouldn't stop. The amount of material that Rob has written attracts so much of the audience that it will only continue to grow. 

This phenomenon is observable in my own blog. This has happened to my own 'Hate letter to my Valentine' blog entry. Every year it gets more and more popular due to the ever increasing number of hits it receives. This year the gravity of the readership took my blog from an average 100-250 readers a day to 200-350 readers a day. As I get more and more reads, the pace of my own blog's readership has increased. 

So you may be wondering why I see this as a lost opportunity. Well, I think we have gotten the wrong idea of what a collector is as a group. Collecting is always going to be seen as a personal thing, but it also tends to be a community thing at the same time. In the past there has been a distinct view as to what is a typewriter of value, and what is not and this is something that is passed along by an involved community.

Were you to regard your collection by its value, other collectors would (and rightly so) scoff at you. No one collects anything necessarily as an investment. Indeed - limiting the size of your collection is likely to improve the value of sale later on if you wish to choose it, rather than stockpiling. 

But typewriters now have a social currency that it didn't have before. The curious are seeing the 'hipsterism' of typewriters, and are finding themselves curious about machines that they have never had to use in a work situation or professional capacity. Typewriters have become hobby tools and are associated with creativity, rather than the bureaucratic purpose that drove their development and sales for over a hundred years. 

it is at this point that we are seeing a dramatic change in the face of what is a 'typewriter collector'. Machines that were previously seen as worthless actually draw more interest. Sure, we'd all love to own those beautiful antique machines that we've seen in other people's collections, but at the same time machines that are immediately usable and yet beautiful have greater social value. People get more excited about finding a very common Hermes 3000 in 50's adornment than they do about seeing a Oliver 2. 

Other factors other than age and rarity have become key in what is driving the cost in typewriters. Colour, design, associated author and usability have a greater impact. A Hermes baby in 50's 'winged' configuration often has a greater value than a Corona 3. Only a minority of people collecting older machines will typically ramp the price up against each other. By large the people that have only hand full of 30's to 70's machines that make up the bulk of the community fight over more modern machines that these others reject - pushing their prices up dramatically. 

Typewriters have now become industrial art. People may just buy one or two, but it is the beauty of them they are looking for. To this end a glossy and shiny Underwood 5 has a greater value than, say a creepy looking Williams. Effectively the face this kind of collector is an art collector. And these are the collectors that are searching our blogs to look at the history of typewriters.

The typosphere blogroll is an audience engagement portal. While we often write blogs at other bloggers, the reality is that the'typosphere' readership are largely people that we don't know. People read up and look for information on the machines that they have on hand before moving on and looking at the history in general. There is an excitement about the history potential of even the most basic machines as they seek the context they exist in. Dismissing a machine as 'common' neglects to value some of the artistry and history that is potentially in every machine. 

And linking to pages of people with similar interests actually is really important to this community engagement. People will snake through other people's blogs for hours when they first feel those initial moments of passion. When they get a spark of something interesting, you have a potential for further audience engagement for the writers and creatives amongst us. 

It is to this end that I feel in some of the associated publications that are around have rather missed the boat. Magazines and books seem to have neglected this audience. People start to find their interest in typewriters on the internet now days. When people read up on something on my blog or Rob's blog, that isn't the end of it. They look for more. Magazines and books aimed at the attitudes of older collectors means that people have actually missed the bigger audience. 

It also means that we have missed other opportunities. For example, what appears on someone like Rob's blog one day, will drive a curiosity to find out more elsewhere the next day. I'll let you draw your own conclusion to why that has been a lost opportunity. 

PS. Again, don't be shy if you feel that I have no included your blog in my list down the side. Until recently Cheryl's Strike-thru blog provided about 12 percent of my hits, and often exceeded what the typosphere page brought to me. If your page isn't there it is probably out of neglect and laziness, rather than a lack of interest in your blog. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Thoughts on 3D printing a typewriter.

It has been a while since I've addressed the question of 3D printing typewriter components. As I've so far been the only person to really attempt to tackle it, whenever the topic seems to arise in forums naturally I'll end up getting an email or a message on the subject. 

So I think it is time to discuss the current limitations, as well as what is actually possible. But to do so I'm going to have to take you through some basic engineering and design principals to explain these limitations. 

For those who don't know, during one of my many lives I did a course that gave me a certification that was known as a 'COS in Engineering'. It was an intense 6 month course that effectively crammed 2 years worth of technical training that you would get progressively while doing an apprenticeship. Most of my contemporaries went on to become toolmakers and engineers. I however went on to become a theatrical stage manager after studying Theatre Technology. 

I guess you do what you are passionate about. Anyway, that was another life really. 

So I popped out of the other end of this course having done training in machining, technical measuring and quality control, drafting and planning and CNC programming amongst other things. I was always excellent at the theory and the intellectually complicated work. But was crap when it came to the manual machining stuff. So they pushed my study in the direction of looking at a new field in engineering:- Computer Aided Design and Drafting. 

I was fortunate. I got advanced out of some of my workshop modules and instead ended up being placed with several senior engineers with Toyota who were receiving specialised training on CADD. Back then the workshop engineers didn't think much of this CADD stuff, but it was clearly the direction of the future of manufacturing at the time. And getting a grounding in it is important for those who want to use this kind of 3D technology to produce refined and quality parts. 

Problem 1: Tolerance. 
No, I'm not about to lecture you on peace and good will to all man. But rather about a problem that has faced engineers for hundreds of years. Our current work tools are incredibly accurate. But are only accurate to a point. So when parts are made by engineers, they need to specify how accurately the part needs to be made. 

Basically, it is a way of saying that you want the part to be a specific size, but you can allow it to be made a certain size bigger or smaller for it to still be able to work a specified. 

If a tolerance is 'tight' it means you have very little room to move on the specification. Loose tolerances tend to be wider and less accurate. 

For example: The ball bearings on the Royal 10's carriage rail is exactly 5 millimetres wide. This would be specified as 5.00mm on the plan. However, the tolerance would be about 0.1 of a millimetre, which means that the ball bearings could be made between 4.9mm and 5.1mm in size and still be considered acceptable. 

Most of the components made for typewriters after about 1930 however were to much more exacting tolerances. So you would often have a play of much less in size - say, 0.05 of a millimetre. 

Think about it. That's thinner than most people's hair. We're talking incredibly accurate sizing that was made by guys using non computer guided tools. 

The problem with 3D printing however, is that the technology is currently limited to an accuracy of over 0.2mm. So while this is incredibly small, it isn't small enough to get the results needed for the really refined parts of the typewriter. Specifically the moving parts that rub, shift and slide against each other. 

However, this can be overcome, but requires handing of the parts with some sophisticated hardware afterwards. When I made the handle (displayed above) for the Remington Noiseless, it had to be drilled out post print. This was the only way possible of getting the accurate finish required for the part to work. Other 3D printed parts - if done carefully, could potentially be further machined to produce the accuracy needed. 

Problem 2: Design. 
We are unfortunately in a position where every part that we wish to manufacture requires a considerable amount of reverse engineering. The part may look simple when you look at it, but often there's grooves and intricacies that were machined into it that we often mistake as being ornate. Those grooves are there for a reason that often isn't obvious.

The big problem is getting accurate measurements. To do this there's a plethora of tools that are used. These tools need to be able to measure up to a 100th of a millimetre (some of them a thousandth) and as such they are expensive, and require training on how to use them to get a good result, without damaging them. 

The tool displayed in the middle there is a Micrometer, and it is the most accurate of the three displayed here. I used such a tool to get the measurements for the Remington part, and that took me about an hour to get about 12 sizes. And that was off a part that was incomplete, and needed some guessing. 

Curved surfaces are difficult. Threads are relatively easy (you use a thread gauge or tap set to check) complex shapes are..... f***ing hard. Wonder why I haven't popped out a replacement escapement block for the Royal 1 yet? It is a complex shape that would have been easier to design onto the machine already knowing all the angles and measurements required, than it is to measure out afterwards. It is really hard work to get the right measurements that are within tolerance. 

How about measuring up this guy.

And then there's the gears. 

A gear might just look like a disk with teeth, but oh my... there's a hell of a lot of measurements involved. 

There are engineers that specialise in designing and manufacturing gears. I don't know if I can emphasise enough how hard gears are. 

At the moment 3D scanning technology is in its infancy. The tolerances on it's scanned information are about the same as what the 3D printer outputs. So as you could imagine, a combination of the two could blow your tolerances out by a huge amount - rendering the effort pointless. 

There however is a very simple way to bypass this whole process:- work off the original drafts. 

The patent drafts don't usually contain enough information, but the original drafts for each and every part must exist somewhere. Somewhere..... Anyone got a basement full of designs? 

Problem 3: Materials.
The 'stainless steel' that I constructed that Remington part out of is strong. But it is what we would call a 'hard' material. What this means is that the material - while strong, is likely to be brittle when stressed and simply crack and crumble when put to its limits. This is a different definition to hardness than what we are talking about when we are looking at platens. There, we are actually talking 'more or less tough'. 

A tough material isn't brittle and has give, and flexes instead of just simply breaking. Plastics are tough. Even metals are more tough than hard - depending on how they have been treated. 

A typewriter needs both kinds of materials. However, at this stage 3D printing produces only 1 when it comes to metals - hard materials. 

But 3D printing isn't the only weapon we have at out disposal. CNC milling, lathing, shaping and cutting tools are also available to produce objects out of other materials. These methods are also far more accurate and able to cater for our more refined manufacturing needs. But they have a disadvantage - they aren't actually all that flexible. 3D printers are able to produce complex shapes easily. But CNC gear requires a cutting tool's route (the part that shapes the metal) to be planned carefully. This makes machining these parts a lot more time consuming and expensive. But once done, you can produce hundreds of thousands of identical parts. Which is exactly what this kind of technology is typically used for - mass production of highly accurate components. 

A 3D printer however does some pretty good work with making tough plastics. Even your home based 3D printer can make some great plastics. But because of the layering technique used to print a part, it tends to produce an interesting texture to the item's surface. As such this isn't exactly ideal - especially when you need the surface to be smooth for smooth operation. 

But then we have the problem of type-bars. 

Image from

Type-bars are unique in engineering. They have complex shapes (the gears and the slightly turned type-head) that require a lot of accuracy. But they also have an unusual metal structure. At different points on the bar the metal goes from tough to hard. For example: The head that the type stub is soldered onto is hard. This is done by heating that section till it is glowing hot, then cooling it very rapidly. 

The middle of the type-bar is typically forged. This is effectively a tough section of metal that is pressed under sudden and immense pressure - this compresses the metal's atomic structure closer together so that it is even more rigid. This makes extremely tough, while being very hard as well. 

Around the gear at the other end of the type-bar needs to be tough. It has to be flexible enough to handle the bounce and the whip as the head hits the platen, but it also needs to be machined very smoothly so that it doesn't break down over time with friction with enough hardness to resist wear. 

In short: There isn't a machine in existence that will produce a product quickly and easily to replace a type-bar. But with a fair bit of post machining and handling you can get close. Sadly, you won't be able to forge anything easily. 

So is it possible to make a typewriter? 
Not including the potential hundreds of hours of work required to measure up and design the parts in CADD software which could be useful in the future - the answer is 'No'.

Well... sort of. Actually, there is a typewriter design that could potentially be a great candidate for 3D printing with a lot of work. But it will require assembling the parts afterwards and a lot of adjustment.

What is this typewriter you may ask? 

Photo - Oztypewriter

The (not so) humble Blickensderfer. Anyone up for taking on a 'Project Blickensderfer' to see how far we can get? 

There's other issues involved, and really I have only glossed over the issues that I have discussed. There is a whole lot more involved that may need a fair bit of discussion. But all in time. It is about to hit midnight here, and my eyes are drooping.