Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Politics and fixing the Bijou

Some names below have been changed to protect the person's identity. 

Correction: *made in a way.

Last night I sat down and decided to try out a few ideas I had to fix a couple of the problems with the Bijou that Robert gave me. I fell in love with the type action of this machine the moment that I laid my hands on the keyboard, and I really wanted to get this typewriter fully working.

It turned out to be easier than I thought. And just as well, as while I was trying to work on the Bijou yesterday, a bit of an online drama was unrolling around me.

It all started yesterday afternoon. I arrived home from work and flicked my computer on to check my email and have a bit of a look at what light-hearted waffle had been posted on Facebook throughout the day. I run a program on my computer called 'Social fixer' and I was immediately confronted by a long list of Facebook 'Friends' who had had their profiles shut down. I also noticed that all of these friends were people that I known from a political activism group I had helped out some time back.

Something was wrong. I popped into a couple of private Facebook groups and left some messages to see if anyone knew what happened to these people's Facebook profiles. Usually those groups are  full of lively discussion, but today they were eerily quiet. I was to learn later that not everyone's profiles had been shut down, but most of the people that I had tried to contact had had their profiles banned from being able to post in public areas, and on other people's 'walls'.

Eventually I would figure out had happened, and how it had happened. But right now I wasn't involved in the group of people it had happened to, so my profile had remained unaffected.

My friend Mitch's profile had been shut down. Mitch was currently living in Vietnam, and had now been there for over 2 years. As such,  Facebook remained his primary means of keeping in contact with the rest of the world and his social circle.

I stopped short of calling people to get the gritty what had happened, as I realised that this was something that I didn't want or need to get involved in. But I did have some real concerns about those that were.

*   *   *

This Bijou 5 is a wholly remarkable machine. Beautiful to look at and amazing to type on, this machine also has historical charm. It has keys that were devoted to marking out a Palestinian currency that hasn't been in use for over 50 years. 

But like all machines of the age of this Bijou, you can't avoid there being some problems. This Bijou had a couple, but nothing that wasn't insurmountable. Instead, I took the opportunity to try out some ideas that I'd had for a while, and had been looking for a candidate to try them on. 

The biggest problem with the Bijou was the platen and the rollers. The platen itself wasn't cracked - but it was rather hard and plasticised. The rollers however were still rubbery, but were suffering from probably the worst example of a flat-spot that I have ever seen. 

The platen was easy to deal with. I now had an opportunity to try out how well brake fluid works on the rubber of these platens, and much to my surprise, it actually worked quite well. I painted it onto the platen and left it for about an hour. after I washed it off the surface felt rubbery again, even if I really couldn't tell by pushing on it if it was any less hard. I scuffed the surface with a bit of rough sandpaper, and the platen looked and felt ready for business. That grey rubber tone had returned to the platen again. 

But there still was the problem with the rollers. I had put the platen back in, but the rollers still locked onto the paper every few lines, and refused to budge. Naturally, this was far from ideal. 

Realistically, the Platen and the rollers would be better of being recovered. But there was nothing wrong with trying a couple of things on them first. As the brake fluid had been so successful, thought I would try another experiment on the rollers. 

I'd been reading up on how to re-shape rubber after their shapes had been formed. A lot of people had been using heat on rubber parts to manipulate them into place. So I thought about it for a bit, and came up with an idea that I could try out on these rubber rollers. 

The technique was simple. A lot of people had been dropping their rubber pieces into a pot of boiling water. But I didn't feel that I needed to so much cook the rollers, as much as I needed to heat them. So I boiled the kettle, and dropped the rollers individually into a container that I then filled with boiling water. Doing it this way, the temperature was probably going to be 10-20 degrees lower - helping  retain the consistency of the rubber while I put it under stress. 

Getting the roller ready

From there rest of this was pretty straight forward. After letting the roller heat up for a bit, I used tongs to grab it out of of the water and place it onto a clean, flat and smooth surface. I then simply rolled each piece of rubber one at a time under a metal ruler - in order to try and push the roller back into a rounded shape. Much like how you make long and round pieces with clay. 

I wouldn't say it was a complete success. The flat spots didn't completely disappear, but they certainly rounded out a bit. Another interesting effect was that a very thin layer of rubber on the surface wore off. It was microns thick, and didn't really change the width of the rollers, but the rubber underneath was less plasticised than this thin surface layer. I cooled the rollers under cold water and sanded them down to get rid of the last of that surface layer. 

I'm in two minds about this surface layer. I'm not sure if I have opened up a seal that was originally on the roller, or I have simply removed a heavily oxidised and hardened top layer. 

*   *   *

I was re-assembling the Bijou when I heard the message tone on my phone. I didn't recognise the number, but it turned out to be Mitch. I hadn't spoken to Mitch outside of emails for pretty much the entire time he'd been in Vietnam, and it was a surprise to find he wanted to catch up on Skype ASAP. 

It was 10:15pm by this stage, but I still had about 20 minutes of of work left on the Bijou to go, so I agreed. Seconds later my iPad was buzzing with a voice call. I answered and listened to him on the speaker, while I continued to re-assemble the Bijou. 

"Heeeeeeeeeeeeey"! Mitch called out as I answered. He was clearly happy to be talking to me. 
"What's going on with your facebook profile" I asked.... 

Mitch is an eccentric but very intelligent man. He's a teacher who is very compassionate. Last we spoke a few years ago, he had learned and was fluent in 6 languages - and was hoping to make it to 8 quite soon. He's also very passionate about civil liberties and the rights of gays. 

He is also more camp than a row of tents, and so loaded with hormones that it is impossible to have a simple conversation with him, before it turns into a festival of innuendo. 

Indeed, I don't think there's a single subject matter in existence that Mitch couldn't turn into some kind of sexual euphemism. And a such, a conversation with him is always very entertaining. Within minutes of answering his call, I was almost in tears I was laughing so hard. My laughter was often met with Mitch loudly squealing 'Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat'! before he qualified it with 'I can't help it'! 

I started to find it hard to work on the Bijou. I was trying to wrangle the platen back into place, and had made 4 attempts at it before I pleaded with Mitch; "Stop it! Stop it! I can't concentrate on what I'm doing". 
"What are you doing" he enquired. 
"I'm trying to get the Platen back in". 
There was silence for a moment, before Mitch snappily asked "What's a platen". 
I thought about my answer for a moment and considered about how I would describe it to Mitch. 
The platen in my hand was a long and round object that was hard and coated in rubber. 
"It's a thing" I replied in answer to his question. 
"Yep, a THING". 
"Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight" Mitch replied with scepticism. On the other hand, I felt I had dodged the bullet of the week. 

I managed to get the platen back into place, and everything bolted back down. Mitch and I talked for a little while longer, and I eventually discerned what had happened to everyone's Facebook profiles. Mitch had managed to get his account reinstated, but had been handed the same posting ban that I now suspected had been handed out to a fairly sizeable group of people. 

I won't detail here the how, why and wherefores of what had actually happened, as I had started this blog to largely get away from such activities. I gave Mitch a few contact numbers of people that could help him, and sent him on his way. He's a lovely guy, and a great friend, and I have a lot of time for him. But on this occasion there was a whole group of men and women I knew who had suddenly found themselves a little more restricted in their online social and political options, and honestly... I didn't want to get involved. 

Everything was quiet now, and despite all the laughter I had managed to get the Bijou back together again with little of a hitch. 

I can report that my wrangling with the rubber on the rollers had been successful. It wasn't perfect, but the Bijou now stopped locking the paper down and fed each sheet of paper through about as straight as anyone could want. I may not have been able to save the world, but I saved a Bijou. And to me that counts for a lot.

Shame though, if I had have been able to save the world, I might have been able to pick up some gorgeous Hollywood blond woman and live happily every after. That stuff happens, right? I've seen it in movies.

P.s. Incidentally, this is my 50th post. Thanks for being a great bunch of readers and typers! You're awesome. 


  1. Happy fiftieth post! I'll soon be there myself.

    Yeh...facebook it a little over-zealous when it comes to things like that. I try to avoid talking politics at all there; I am afraid I'm being scrutinized by them already. It's a shame that we must sensor ourselves so, but I suppose that in some instances, it's the safest option. Very glad your friend got his account back! He sounds epically entertaining.

    Good job with the Bijou! It's a really gorgeous little machine. I have several that I really need to do something with the rubber on, but I'm really loath to do so. I may just do the Saran Wrap quick fix, for the time being.

    Thanks for being such an interesting and compelling blogger, and here's to 50 times 500 more posts!

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words.

      I try to keep things interesting, but I also think that sometimes people find I write... too verbosely. I might run out of steam eventually...

      The Facebook issue was a bit more complex than I was willing to go into, and I'm going to be watching it - but from afar. It is more about how people are using technology to directly bully people whose opinions they do not agree with. It is frightening to think about it, but people are being paid to manipulate social media on an increasingly large scale. This incident was just another knife-edge result of this. Facebook's staff are both too incompetent and lazy to be able to deal with the oncoming storm.

  2. well done McGyvering! Congrats on the 50th post too, I've enjoyed them.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you very much! It's the first time I've ever managed to make it to 50 posts on a blog actually...

  4. Splendid! I am really going to have to try this for some of the rubber I have that needs some work. A few of the flats are not absolutely terrible, and I hope this method could make some useable feed rollers!

    I've said it before, but the Bijou is a stunning machine. It looks like it types like a champ.

    1. Give it a go... be careful not to go too hard on those rollers, and make them 'spread'.

  5. Cheers to you on your 50th post!
    That Bijou looks amazing.

    1. It looks.... AND types great! I'm rather infatuated with it!

  6. The brake fluid thing didn't work on my... "Bijou" so maybe I need to try it again and apply more. I can't imagine my platen is different than yours is.

    1. I think I ended up coating it - maybe 5 times? In the space of an hour or so. It was also quite hot in the shed that I did it with.

      The effect as great as I'd liked, as it really only returned the rubbery feel to the surface more than anything - but it didn't soak right into the platen from what I can tell, unlike how most other people's units have. It let me get more grip, but it didn't soften it all that much. Not like it has with others.

  7. Hilarious, technically interesting, and politically interesting post. (Never trust Facebook for anything.)

    I have not found that brake fluid changes the underlying hardness of a platen -- it affects only the outermost layer. Microns, as you said. However, that is good for improving grip.

    1. Agreed. Facebook is diabolical.

      You're right, it certainly doesn't give any springiness back into a Platen, but it does give it a tiny bit more flex. On the motorcycle forums that I occasionally grace, a lot of people use it to add elasticity to hardened weatherproofing boots. They usually soak it in the stuff for a few days, but it does give flexibility back. So it can - depending on the rubber, penetrate quite deep.

      Still. There's no substitute for replacing the rubber.

  8. Congratulations on #50! That is a neat article. I like the way you intermingled technicality and politics.
    Facebook? eeek! yuk! I do not trust that site at all.

    1. Thanks Bill...

      And yeah, every day I find myself resenting facebook even more.