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Monday, 23 May 2016

RIP Morley Safer (1931-2016)

Truth from the Vietnam War "shat on the American flag" (LBJ)

Typewriters in Transit

My "Portables, Etc" column in the next edition of ETCetera reveals the fascinating and multi-talented man behind the design of the "All New Remington Personal Portable", launched in August 1949. He also designed the revolutionary keytops which appear on the model seen above. The model is on the lap of the squinting secretary of millionaire constructor Hal Hays. Hays is most famous these days for his affair with actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, who Hays made a senior vice-president and a voting board member of his company. He also gave her a massive platinum, 25-carat diamond engagement ring, costing $250,000. Zsa Zsa caused a scandal when she turned up at a Beverly Hills party for Henry Ford II given by Hays' former fiancée, Merle Oberon, who falsely claimed to be Tasmanian-born. 
 An Acehnese police officer uses an Olympia SM 18 portable typewriter to record a complaint at the back of her police car in Lhoknga, Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in February 2005. Most of the police stations in Lhoknga were destroyed by the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004.
Olympia Traveller De Luxe
1956 Triumph Gabriele
Above, Berlin Police Director Dr Werner Togotzes on the way to the scene 0f a crime in 1938.
Below, more German police work.

 Corona 4 portable typewriter used in a "mobile working station", Los Angeles, 1930.
 The Presidency, a luxury Simca car equipped with a telephone, television, radio and an Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter, Paris 1958.
Corona Skyriter portable typewriter in a Cadillac at the National Automobile Show at the LA Coliseum.
 Actor Clark Gable at a Royal portable typewriter, 1960.
 French sports journalist uses a Remington Model 2 portable typewriter in a BMW convertible, Paris, 1934.
 Underwood 5 typewriter, British Pathé newsreel, 1936.
 Above and below, Olivetti DL portable typewriter, Jensen Interceptor car at Harrods show, London, 1969.

 Hungarian-born photographer 'Weegee' (Arthur Fellig, 1899-1968) on an Underwood Noiseless portable typewriter in the trunk of his Chevrolet, 1942.
 Will Rogers with Remington Model 2 portable typewriter.
Lady Gaga with Underwood Universal portable typewriter.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Aussie Bastard Who Could Fly – and the Grey Star Reporters Who Knew How to Cover His Crash

Guy Menzies phones home from Hokitika on the evening of January 7, 1931, while postmaster Ralph Cox listens in. Photo taken by David Stevenson.
Young journalists today, if denied the use of their iPhones and their laptops, wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to do it. But 85 years ago, in January 1931, reporters from the Greymouth Evening Star - armed with no more than their wits and their Remington portable typewriters - hurdled with impressive ease the massive challenges that confronted them. A rebellious young daredevil flyer called Guy Lambton Menzies had crashed-landed in a South Westland swamp at the end of a groundbreaking unscheduled flight from Sydney. It was one of the biggest international news story of the day, making a sizeable splash on The New York Times’ world page (under the headline “Youth Breaks Record on Tasman Sea Flight”). Even before The Gray Lady’s story was printed, those Grey Star reporters had got it on to the front page of such distant evening newspapers as the Corsicana Daily News in Texas and the Iola Register in Kansas - that very same day! (Well, in fairness, in the meantime it had crossed the international dateline, but still …) In startlingly quick time, US dailies such as the Morning News in Wilmington, Delaware (“Another Famous Southern Cross”) and the Terril Record in Iowa (“Inglorious Ending of a Glorious Flight”) printed Greymouth photographer Lawrence Andrew Inkster’s images of Menzies and his Avro 616 Sports Avian IVa – Charles Kingsford Smith castoff, the Southern Cross Junior – upside down beside Alf Wall’s cow paddocks at Herepo outside Harihari.
Photos at crash site by Lawrence Andrew Inkster
         Inkster’s photos, which clearly showed the registration letters G-ABCF underneath the Avian’s wings, had instantly given rise to some Kiwi wit – they stood for, one Harihari humorist promptly declared, “Gee – Aussie Bastards Can’t Fly!
The 21-year-old Menzies had hit the La Fontaine ground at 3.15pm on January 7, 1931.  By the time he had fallen headfirst into mud out of his cockpit, waded across swampland to find help, had afternoon tea with May Berry and was put in Bert Kelly’s cream truck,  Grey Star and Grey River Argus reporters were well on the way south to meet him. One had somehow latched on to the story almost as soon as it happened, and had already spoken to Menzies by telephone from Harihari postmaster George Rowley’s store. It was a trying interview – after his 11-hour 45-minute flight from Mascot, Menzies was still pretty much deaf from the constant roar of the Avro’s engines.
Menzies with Hokitika hosts and Greymouth reporters on the evening of January 7, 1931.
 Photo by David Stevenson.
The Grey Star and Argus reporters were there at Ross, 29 miles of then hazardous road north of Harihari and 40 miles from Greymouth, when Menzies arrived in Kelly’s truck. His story was disseminated so far and so rapidly that it had reached Sydney by 3pm Eastern Australian time (5pm in New Zealand) and a Sydney Morning Herald journalist was able to ring Menzies’ mother, Ida, in Drummoyne, to give her the good news of Guy’s “safe” arrival. In those days, New Zealand’s cooperative news agency, involving dailies both metropolitan and provincial feeding copy into a national grid, was called the United Press Association. As affiliates, the Grey Star and Grey River Argus filed stories of major news value to Wellington, from where those of international appeal were sent on to Australia and beyond by “electric telegraph”. In 1931, UPA was under the management of former Christchurch Star news editor Alexander Buchan Lane.
The impression one gains from Max Wearne’s 2005  The Life of Guy Menzies: The Forgotten Flyer is that Australian newspapers were as much on top of this story as those in New Zealand. Yes, New Zealand journalists were supplied with some details about mystery man Menzies, but Australia’s eastern seaboard was two hours behind New Zealand, and yet New Zealand newspapers still “owned” this story the next morning. For ample evidence of this, one only has to compare The New Zealand Herald’s massive coverage (above) with the skimpy paragraphs in The Sydney Morning Herald, a newspaper in which the most prominent Menzies “news” item was a half-page Atlantic Motor Oil advertisement lauding “this daring aviator”.
Now in fairness, Harihari is about as a remote a hamlet as there is in a sparsely populated and rugged country. In that part of the New Zealand, in that era, telephone communications were only possible through party lines, directed onward through the post office in the town of Hokitika. When on the evening of the Menzies landing, postmaster Ralph Cox put Menzies through to Sydney, to speak to his mother and to Frederick William Tonkin (1884-1956), the much-travelled editor of the Daily Guardian, it was the first time such calls had been made between Westland’s capital and Sydney (two firsts in one day!).
Menzies relaxes in the Cox home, the postmasters' residence.
Photo by David Stevenson.
Menzies' log book shows that he estimated he would land "about Greymouth".
In the circumstances, the achievement of the Grey Star and Grey River Argus reporters, and the Greymouth correspondent of the Christchurch Press, was truly remarkable. Thousands of words were sent in extraordinarily short time across the world, followed the next day by the prints from the crash scene taken by Inkster and a photographer who had somehow managed to find his way to South Westland from Dunedin, Alexander William Bathgate (right, 1877-1961) (remember, there was no Haast Pass back then, nor would there be one for another 30 years).
While Inkster was still on his way south to capture Menzies at the crashed Avro, two of the more famous Menzies images, one of him on the telephone and the other at dinner with reporters and his hosts in Hokitika, were taken by a young Hokitika photographer named David Stevenson Jr (1907-1949).
 Inkster’s photos were prominently used in the Auckland Star and Wellington Evening Post on the 10th and, with Stevenson’s and Bathgate’s, in the Auckland Weekly News on the 14th, no mean feat given the capricious picturegram method of transmitting images by wire back then. Inkster’s images also appeared in Australian newspapers from the 13th. For someone whose work in the La Fontaine swamp in 1931 is mostly uncredited today, Inkster’s legacy is that his photos of the upturned Avro are the ones by which the Menzies story is still most easily identified. However, one of his more telling images, illustrating just how boggy La Fontaine was back then (below, right), is no longer used, credited or otherwise. Stevenson and Bathgate have been given no lasting credit, either.
The talented Inkster, left, was born in Westport on April 2, 1897, the son of a Shetland Island migrant who died when Inkster was six months old. He was raised by his mother, who came from Araluen, outside Canberra. Inkster first worked on the railways but found his forte in photography and joined forces with James Ring in 1924. He took over Ring’s renowned agency when Ring retired in 1929. It was still called Inkster’s when Joe Quinn became owner after Inkster’s death on August 29, 1955. Quinn also photographed for the Grey Star.
For the Star and Argus reporters to have got hold of the story, to have made contact with Menzies, either by phone or in person, to have carried out their interviews, typed their long and detailed stories, and to have filed them from Hokitika on the night of the crashlanding, using party lines, in the time they had available to them ahead of deadlines, was quite astonishing. Don’t worry, I know what I’m talking about – I once had to file a story using a party line from a remote part of the West of Ireland, and it was a most exacting task - and that was in 1974! Remember, this flight in 1931 was unscheduled, made by an unknown pilot. And it ended a very long way from Menzies' intended destination outside Blenheim (or, as Australian authorities had been led to believe, Perth). So at first, at least, details were sketchy to say the least. What the Star and Argus men did took some doing.
Archibald Kibble
The Grey Star team was marshalled by the newspaper’s editor, Archibald Kibble. Kibble was born in Holborn in London on November 7, 1879, and first worked in New Zealand as a clerk in Napier in 1911. He started his career in journalism in Hobart in 1914 and enlisted for World War I when he returned to New Zealand in 1917 and settled in Christchurch. Kibble became editor of the Ashburton Guardian in 1919 and took over as editor of the Grey Star when John Robert Wallace died in April 1921. Kibble remained editor for 25 years. There was a break in 1939 when he went back to England, but he returned at the outbreak of World War II. After leaving the Grey Star in 1946, Kibble returned to Christchurch and was still in journalism at the age of 78. After two trips back to England in the 1950s, he eventually settled back there in 1959 and died on July 26, 1965, in Bournemouth.
"Our photographer", the "first man on the scene with a camera", was in fact Lawrence Inkster of Greymouth.
Sadly, the names of these intrepid Grey Star and Argus reporters who covered this historic event are unknown. The hundreds of newspapers around the world which published their stories only gave them the standard “Our Correspondent” byline, as if to establish they had someone on the scene.
Uncredited Inkster photo in an Australian newspaper.
"Gee – Aussie Bastards Can’t Fly!" can't be seen!
We do know, however, that one “ace” New Zealand journalist, James Ogden Hanlon, was back in harness in Christchurch, after stints with the Sydney Sun and as editor of The Fiji Times in the late 1920s. Born in Auckland on June 10, 1899, Jim Hanlon had worked for the Auckland Star, Wanganui Chronicle and the Grey River Argus before going to Australia and on to Suva. He spent most of the 1930s as a chief of staff and roving reporter based in Norfolk, England, before returning to Auckland. Hanlon died on June 21, 1986, aged 87, and is buried at Purewa Cemetery.
 Above, Menzies with young female admirers in Hokitika. Below, Menzies' plane is carted from Hokitika to Greymouth
 Below, in Greymouth.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Getting SHIRTY about QWERTY (Part I)

- With apologies to Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show crew
St Joseph Herald, Michigan, 1868, six years before the
Sholes & Glidden first appeared on the market.
The reference to its speed is in relationship to
penmanship (handwriting), not sending Morse.
To this day, the QWERTY keyboard configuration remains, to paraphrase Winston Churchill's October 1939 description of the Soviet Union, "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". QWERTY will most likely remain so forever. The reason for this, perhaps, is that there seems to be every possibility the sequence of letters which comprises the "Universal" keyboard emerged almost completely at random, a juggling act of sorts. In turn, this might well explain why Christopher Latham Sholes and James Densmore didn't bother to leave behind a definitive explanation of the way in which they settled on QWERTY - maybe they simply couldn't. As desperate as we may be to finally figure QWERTY out, to decode it, there will always be obstacles - such as the absolute fact that we cannot possibly look into the minds of two dead men, from a distance of almost 145 years. These hurdles will remain insurmountable. Thus, every single theory concerning the configuration, no matter how well researched or documented, can be no more than that: a theory - and one based on pure speculation. What we are actually left with is a choice: Is one theory more plausible than another? That's really all there is to it: speculation upon speculation.
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Let's just say, for the sake of an argument, that this is what started out as the 40-character four-bank keyboard, in alphabetical order, which Matthew Schwalbach came up with in late 1871, and which Sholes and Densmore then played around with in order to overcome "technical difficulties" (Ernst Martin). FGH stay together, for example, as the only surviving trace of an original alphabetical sequence, albeit on a lower bank. Can such extensive character movements be related to anything other than the efforts of Sholes and Densmore to get their machine working more efficiently? Schwalbach had already achieved the objective of a small, compact four-bank keyboard, to reduce the amount of hand movement by the operator. What remained was to ensure the typebars connected to the keys could operate smoothly. One overall task, but a number of necessary solutions, and much fiddling - the diagram above is not intended to convey an accurate idea of Schwalbach's original layout, simply to indicate the amount of (key)chopping and changing that went on. Were Sholes and Densmore premeditated, or indeed guided, in their decision-making? Based upon the balance of what evidence we do have, that would seem to me to be most unlikely.
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A young journalist who worked with me at The Canberra Times and went on to "make it" elsewhere - in spite of little or no encouragement and guidance from his "superiors" - once trailed along on a lunchtime hunt to a large Fyshwick second-hand bookshop. I suspect he later came to place a little too much faith in a chance remark I happened to make as we walked the long aisles, that "If I was ever short of an idea for a column, I could pick up any of these books and find one". For me it still holds true, but good second-hand bookshops (in Canberra at least) seem to be disappearing at a rate far faster than New Zealand glaciers. Using the Internet is not the same thing, because, for one thing, an Internet search presupposes a subject, and risking a random selection is more likely than not to throw up something about which no column in a family newspaper can be written. What's more, old-stagers like me were brought up in a time when non-fiction works - references and textbooks - were almost entirely reliable (properly researched, checked, proofed, legalled, the works). Many of these are online, of course, if one knows how to find them. But today we're much more likely to be directed toward some half-baked thesis or an opinion piece masquerading as an article dealing in facts. Key in "QWERTY" on Google, for example, and see what nonsense comes up on the first page alone (oztypewriter notwithstanding). Give me a book anytime.
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In the days when I was a newspaper columnist, there were occasions when I was monetarily stumped for a topic. Happily, my brief was to write on anything I liked. Not even when the subject was sport did I concentrate a whole column on sport. I suspect it might be much more difficult for someone charged with writing each week on nothing but, say, technology. Such a columnist might often relish stumbling across a topic that had just the slightest whiff of technology about it. That thought came to me when I read a piece in The Atlantic from May 3, 2013, written by one Alexis C. Madigral and headed, "The Lies You've Been Told About the QWERTY Keyboard - The QWERTY configuration for typewriters can be traced, actually, to the telegraph." Suspiciously, on the very same day, another article, by Wesley Fenton at TESTED, appeared under the headline, "The QWERTY Keyboard Layout May Have Come from Morse Code. The story of QWERTY as we know? Probably wrong." Madigral and Fenton had, obviously without too much checking of their own, picked up on an article by a Jimmy Stamp, published online earlier on May 13, 2013, by The Smithsonian Magazine. This one was headed "Fact of Fiction? The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard - What came first: the typist or the keyboard? The answer may surprise you." Both columnists had taken their leads from a paper published more than two years earlier, in March 2011, by Koichi and Motoko Yasuoka of Kyoto University and titled "On the Prehistory of QWERTY". Neither Stamp nor Madrigal offered much in the way of an original thought of their own, they simply followed what the Yasuokas had written, passing it on as gospel. The abstract for the Yasuoka document says, in part, "In this paper we reveal the prehistory of [the] QWERTY keyboard along [with] the history of telegraph apparatus: Morse, Hughes-Phelps and Teletype. The early keyboard of [the] Type-Writer was derived from [the] Hughes-Phelps Printing Telegraph, and it was developed for Morse receivers. The keyboard arrangement very often changed during the development, and accidentally grew into QWERTY among the different requirements. QWERTY was adopted by [the] Teletype in the 1910s, and [the] Teletype was widely used as a computer terminal later."
The Yasuokas go on: "Then we debunk several urban legends about QWERTY". Koichi Yasuoka is very good at debunking, especially any ideas that might run contrary to his own.
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One of the golden rules of old-style print journalism was, "Never risk publishing the word of anyone, without first checking out the facts for yourself." If Stamp, Madigral or Fenton had ever heard it, in this case they certainly didn't apply it. Stamp used the Kyoto theory to argue that the user (Morse operators) determined the structure of the QWERTY keyboard. There is simply no evidence to suggest that's true. Nonetheless, Stamp - and this is a guy representing the Smithsonian, remember - promptly adds to what he describes as the "myth and misinformation surrounding the development of QWERTY" by saying " ... right before their machine, dubbed the Sholes & Glidden, went into production, Sholes filed another patent, which included a new keyboard arrangement." Utter rubbish! Eventually Stamp gets to the point: "While it can’t be argued that deal with Remington helped popularize the QWERTY system, its development as a response to mechanical error has been questioned by Kyoto University researchers Koichi Yasuoka and Motoko Yasuoka ... They conclude that the mechanics of the typewriter did not influence the keyboard design ... The Kyoto paper suggests that the typewriter keyboard evolved over several years as a direct result of input provided by ... telegraph operators." Questions, conclusions, NOT facts.
As for Madrigal, he makes no attempt to hide the fact he is lifting whole paragraphs from good ol' "Jimmy Stamp over at Smithsonian". He boldly claims: "The QWERTY keyboard did not spring fully formed from Christopher [sic] Sholes, the first person to file a typewriter patent with the layout. Rather, it formed over time as telegraph operators used the machines to transcribe Morse code." "But the development of the design wasn't accidental or silly: it was complex, evolutionary and quite sensible for Morse operators." The rest is pretty much verbatim from Stamp. Did this guy get paid for copying and pasting Stamp's copy?
Fenton said first quotes that uber reliable source Wikipedia before himself dipping into Stamp's piece. "Smithsonian Mag turned up a lot more in their research." Duh? Their research??? Isn't this Yasuoka research? Oh, hang on, Fenton adds, again lifting Stamp quotes word-for-word, "Kyoto University Researchers Koichi Yasuoka and Motoko Yasuoka ... tracked the evolution of the typewriter keyboard alongside a record of its early professional users." Presumably Fenton held his hand out for some pay for this crap, too.
What happened here is far worse than mere plagiarism, however. Stamp, looking for something to hang some thoughts about the KALQ keyboard on, stumbles across the Kyoto paper and, without bothering to question its premise, runs with it. Madrigal and Fenton see Stamp's item and again, without looking too far into the Yasuoka theory, they simply repeat Stamp's unproven assertions. Suddenly, a paper which has been waiting around for two years for someone to pay any attention to it has developed legs. It's up and running. The QWERTY-Morse connection has got currency. A mere theory, pure speculation, enters the realm of accepted wisdom. It tops Google's QWERTY search page. All because of what passes for "journalism", but is actually very sloppy analysis, filled to the brim with unchecked assumptions.
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I was - quite fairly and reasonably - put on the spot when Richard Polt asked about this theory in a comment on my blog post on the mysterious QWERTY-advising son-in-law of Amos Densmore, James Densmore or Latham Sholes (take a pick). "I wonder whether you have an opinion on the theory that the S&G keyboard is designed to separate pairs of typebars that frequently follow each other?" Richard inquired.
"In ETCetera #6, Richard Dickerson [Ed: above, creator of the "Dickerson dodecamer"] published an analysis that supports this theory, with the notable exception that the R and E typebars are only two positions apart. Dickerson calls this a mistake. The Yasuokas take it as evidence that the whole theory is wrong, but I am not convinced by their argument about Morse code - partly because, I admit, I just haven't had the patience to follow its intricacies." "Put on the spot" in that, oh dear, was I being asked to question to word of the Yasuokas, to tackle Kyoto wisdom and risk incurring the wrath of Kiochi? I did manage to read right through the Yasuoka paper, and like Richard was not convinced. In my case, far from it. I am not an academic, never have been, never will be. Nevertheless I am very familiar with modern academic processes, which in my humble opinion too often begin with a preconception and then set about manipulating the solid evidence, using it selectively to come to the desired result. That's not proper research, that's simply pushing a chosen wheelbarrow in a predestined direction. 
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When its comes to working with what actually happened in the earliest days of the typewriter, I place a great deal of faith in Ernst Martin and Richard Nelson Current, one an out-and-out typewriter enthusiast, a one-time trade journalist and later publisher, the other an esteemed academic and writer. I doubt if anyone has studied typewriter history in more detail over a longer period than Martin. Michael Adler might challenge that, but then Adler allowed himself to reveal a distinct bias against Sholes - his agenda, a little like that of the Yasuokas, was to establish an extended QWERTY prehistory. But in Adler's case, much of it was irrelevant to the actual development of the typewriter we know and love today, thus rendering his work of merely "academic interest". As for getting inside the heads of Sholes and Densmore, nobody comes even vaguely close to Current.
Martin tell us this: "Among the first typewriter builders were some who believed that their keyboard [should] emulate a piano. They had overlooked the fact that typewriter keys must be individually hit in quick succession, and that it would be advantageous to keep the keyboard small, to accommodate the keys in a confined space to avoid the hands having to make large movements. Schwalbach recognised this need early on and persuaded Sholes to [employ] a four-row keyboard, which we have today.
"The world believes Sholes placed the characters in the same sequence as in the American printer's case - Sholes was a printer - [but this] is wrong. It is true that Sholes and Densmore worked out [QWERTY] together. Sholes' [earlier] experimental machines had a single-row keyboard with long and short intervening keys like the piano and the characters placed alphabetically, namely A-M long, N-Z short. Schwalbach distributed the keys over four rows, but the keyboard was originally in alphbetical order. The model shown in the first Remington catalogue [has in the second bank] ADFGHJKLM side by side. That the alphabetical order was not quite retained was due to technical difficulties, which had to overcome by Sholes."
NEXT: The views of Current, Schwalbach, Roby, Porter, Wheeler, Edison, Davidson and most tellingly, Louis Sholes.