Monday, April 22, 2013

Free typing course

Well that is nice! The kind Remington company throws in lots of FREE stuff with their Noiseless Portable typewriter. (The actual price you will pay for the Noiseless is worryingly absent from this full-page magazine ad. Hmm...)

That a portable machine comes with a case I would rather expect as standard, but hey, the whole ad is rather 'loud' anyways. (The differing 'tones' of the ads of the different brands can be a whole subject of itself probably...) But that typing course would be neat to have.

Writing to the company would be rather pointless. I didn't buy the machine new of course and apart from that, the whole company is no longer there.

Yet also after ~75 years, the booklet is still available. A few sellers of old/rare books have it on offer for about $30,- (not 'gratis'). Even more amazingly, such a booklet is available in a couple of places online on the internet. Scanned and in a handy PDF format even, at That is awesome: Thanks!

So.   Got the Noiseless.   I wanted the booklet.

With a very physical machine like a typewriter, it seemed better to also have a physical booklet (with operating instructions too!). So to complete my new Noiseless, I printed myself a copy.

Starting with the online scans, used picture editing tools to edit out most of the stains, spots and creases that paper collects with age. Then made a printing layout for double-sided on A3 paper (thin, smooth, just a little too white probably), at about the right size (I think). So to the color laserjet printer; then stack, staple and cut to size: Booklet!

By the way, when sitting down to read my newly printed booklet, I noticed that the company actually recommends the manner of typing touch, top of page 5; "strike them quickly and do not allow the finger to hang on to the key at the end of the stroke". That sounds a lot like a description of 'staccato' style :-)

Now to practice. Or perhaps just stick with my 'sight method' of typing.

Joy :-)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

Large, heavy, green and gone

Large it was. The machine itself, a solid office desktop machine, has already quite a footprint; add to that a carriage with a 50 cm wide platen. This could take an A3 - sideways. This really made it unwieldy, hard to carry and hard to store.

Heavy it was. Even though most of the machine was aluminium, the material was used rather generously. Very solidly built. The extra wide carriage probably made the machine just that little bit heavier than even a regular version would be.

Green it was almost but not quite. It is the brand's particular shade of not quite green and not quite grey. It's period I suppose.

Gone it is. Selling it on the local online auction site proved really not feasible. There just isn't that much interest in a 50 cm platen machine, as I can well imagine. Now I've read about the desirability of these machines elsewhere, but overhere they are as common as mud. There are at any given time 5 or 10 of these listed in between several hundred machines of other makes and sizes. And that is just the local (national) auction site for this fairly small market. So in the end it was dropped off at the local charity shop...


When I got it (ages ago), I rather liked the glass-topped keys. They did however seem quaint and out of place on the otherwise sleek and modern body. I've assumed that for specific keyboard layouts (e.g. with the 'ij' key) for smaller markets glass keys may have been used. Then they would perhaps not need tooling to make small-run keytop graphics. Or it's just random.

Every machine has a serial number, so I've read. Being curious, I looked for it but couldn't find a serial number anywhere on this machine. I didn't remove any glued-down felt padding to look underneath, but otherwise I looked pretty much all over the machine and I did use a flashlight. Not a number in sight. The one thing that was inside the machine was a small scrap of paper with the word 'Asterlist', stuck under a clip. No idea what that was of/for/about; maybe the name of the typeface. I put the scrap of paper back where it was and put the machine together again.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New (in 1930) electric typewriter prints whole phrases

When browsing through an old issue of Popular Mechanics (the March 1930 issue to be exact, amazing what is on the internet), the following short article drew my attention.

The text was intriguing and not quite clear to me at first reading. Did make me wonder: what did such a machine look like?

Another slightly longer article in an American newspaper of April of the same year gives more information about the machine (but still no pictures) and especially information on the rationale for such a machine:

Reading this pitch; it should be a great success! But these machines did not become ubiquitous. This had me wondering for a bit. Why is that?

The machine may have been too costly for it's benefit back in the 30-ies, but probably there is a another cause. The fact that also today we use mostly character based keyboards is a strong hint there is a fundamental flaw in the proposition of a word writing machine.

When viewing a writing machine from the information flow point of view, then I think there is a likely, fundamental reason word-writing machines are not and will not be a great success.
In the case of a regular typewriter or a modern computer keyboard, the user needs to choose over time a character from a keyspace of about 30 characters. With every decision made, the information (character) is added to the result (text).

For a word-writing machine, the user has to choose from a keyspace of 100 (50%), 400 (90%) or even 1000 words (98%) in addition to the individual characters. Assuming an average word length of 6 characters, this would allow the user to need 6 times as long to make the choice in this larger keyspace to still need the same amount of 'work' to write a text. The time ('work') needed to make the choice and enter into the machine is I suspect not a straight linear relation with the size of the keyspace. Probably there is an exponential relationship. Making a choice and a keyboard entry from a 130+ keyspace takes longer than entering 6 regular keystrokes.

The benefit of word-writing (if any) is too small to justify the cost of learning a new entry method.

Anyways, I get distracted. What did it look like...

A quick trawl through patent databases turned up a few patents with likely relevant titles. The US patent numbers 1,587,137 for a "Word Writing Machine",  1,590,998 for a "Combined Keyboard and Chart" and 1,619,691 for a "Typewriting Machine" all describe and claim such a device. These were filed for during the early 1920-ies.

From the text of the patents it seems that Mr Balston started filing patent applications for this invention already in 1914. Overall, Mr Balston was a quite prolific inventor over a broad field. His published patents range from a "Nursing Bottle" (1890) to a "Photographic Camera".

But back again to the word-'macro'-writing machine; the first patent describes the machine that has the ability to print a series of letters in one go; print a whole word in a from a single key-press. It does this with a row/rack of letter-rings, indeed much like the mileage counter on a speedometer. The hard rubber letter-rings have all printable characters on the outer diameter. The rings are rotated so as to form the word to be written and then hammered against the page. The rotation is controlled of course via the key selected on the keyboard and encoded in the mechanics.

It could be seen, in working principle, perhaps as a hugely parallel Hammond-like machine.  Or similar to the mechanism of adding machines (or cash registers) to print all digits of a number in one strike, albeit with many more characters.

Rather complex drawings, but they do show the basic arrangement:


Driving the thing was a problem to be solved, the depressing of the key does not give enough energy to make the whole-word imprint. (Adding machines have a hefty lever for that.) In the patent a clockwork spring is mentioned that would be wound up so as to have sufficient energy for the machine to work for some time. An electric motor would probably be the preferred solution...

Selecting the words was rather ingenious, as described in the newspaper article above. The diagram from the patent shows the general idea. Also it shows the complexity, there is a large choice to be made by the user for every entry:

Given the sophistication of the patents and the detail in the articles, at least one functional machine would surely have been built. Can't however find any sign of this device becoming a commercial product.

The complexity in the construction added by the 'macro' function, combined with the unusual keyboard operation probably were more costly than the cost of just writing the individual characters. Also by 1930 the form-writers were, I guess, established products, using paper-tape or pre-punched aluminium strip or sheet. These would be hard to compete against in such a specialty product for a niche market by an unproven method that would take more work.

Still curious if a photograph of this machine (or such a machine) exist?

Distracting, this internet. Interesting, but distracting...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Oops - learnt something new about bakelite ^D^D^D lacquer.

And with the new ribbon; it types again! (Skips though. A lot.)

The old ribbon was completely out-of-ink. I won't say 'dry' or 'empty', because I do suspect the ribbon to be responsible for some of that mouldy-smell. It had been folding double length-wise, winding onto the spool folded in half. This of course meant it wound to a larger diameter; so it had become firmly stuck inside the spool-cup. And when it was well and truly wedged stuck, my guess is that the ribbon-reverse also didn't work anymore. It then probably spent a decade or more developing that green/black layer that glued everything even tighter. Yuck.

But all that is now cleaned. And disinfected with a good helping of IPA alcohol on the bare metal parts (taking better care now to steer clear of the bakelite).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Article on Rundstatler musical notes writer

Browsing an older issue of 'Het Leven' ('Life') magazine of 1937, the following article caught my eye "A relief for speedy composers.":

The caption (in Dutch) reads:
"The laborious writing down of musical notes, sharps and flats, the time consuming writing out of the different orchestral parts and all the burden that the complicated musical notation is for the speedy composer have been resolved in one fell swoop by German engineer Rundstatler, with his machine that can write musical score with the speed that a typist can take a letter! The machine writes everything, both the musical notes and the bars as well as even the most complicated chords - now just some inspiration, and our composers write a symphony in a day!"

One other mention of the Rundstatler machine turned up on a first quick internet-search. A scan of an advertisement for the machine (included in a thesis for it's graphic design).

Looking at the machine in the photograph, it somewhat resembles perhaps an Adler mechanism. Still has at first glance a 'normal' 4-bank keyboard and the sheet clearly shows indeed musical notation. The print-ad suggests this was probably on the market and for sale; in this blog some recent (and much better) pictures of an actual Nototyp machine.

A second internet-search quickly yielded a patent for the machine and also showed that it (of course :-) was already the subject of an article on oz.typewriter. Including a much better quality version of the photograph above and much extra information on these machines.

But still enjoyable and inspiring to run across such little tidbits of ingenuity from decades ago.