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Tuesday 30 April 2013

On the Iberian Typewriter Safari: Surfin' from Malibu to Newport, it's as simple as ABC (for Chevron)

One of the world's most extensive typewriter families stretches out across the globe from the Iberian Peninsula. It is one that embraces brand names such as Siemag (Siegener Maschinenbau AG), Koch's Nähmaschinenwerke AG, ABC, Cole Steel, Royal, Imperial, Sears and (in Portugal) Oliva; as well as Australian labels Chevron and Lemair. Model names include Safari, Malibu and Newport, to name but a few. The common denominator across this vast range of machines is the Lisbon company Messa:
The arrival here this week of a Lemair 3002 portable typewriter was a reminder of just how many variations there are in this family. The Lemair label easily peeled off to reveal it was in fact an ABC 3002. And of course barely readable under the left side of the carriage is the country of origin of this model:
I could already clearly tell from the eBay listing that the ABC 3002 was a very close relation to my Imperial 2002. I was quite surprised when I was given the Imperial 2002 last year, because I hadn't previously seen a design like it. That just showed how easily a typewriter's mask can confuse.  When the ABC 3002 arrived and I slipped off the ribbon spools cover, I can see instantly that the mechanics are identical to every other Messa machine I have ever owned - most commonly the ABC and Lemair 2000 series. The added figure of 2 on the end of 2000 simply represents a new, more "modernised" mask.
Here is the latest addition to my collection, the ABC 3002, aka the Lemair 3002:
Among the models in this range of mechanically identical family members are:
The original Messa version of the 3002
ABC/Lemair 2000S
Sears Newport (Ryan Adney Collection)
Sears Malibu
Sears Chevron
The Messa 2002 range includes:
Royal Safari II
Imperial 2002
Messa 2002
Oliva 2002
Here are a couple of Messa 2000s
ABC 2000
Sears Chevron
The earlier Messa small portable, a direct (plastic) descendant of the ABC-Cole Steel, was variously marketed as an ABC, Lemair, Sears and Oliva, among other names:
This one, made for Messa in Pakistan, is a close relation to the Neckermann Brilliant S, designed by Koch's-ABC
But back to the ABC 3002:
SPACEBAR NOTE: I loved the story told about a Messa 3002 by a Portuguese blogger. It seems there was a man who had owned one of these machines since at least the early 1980s. His 20-something sons referred to it as his "computer". They asked him why he didn't sell it. "The father sharply pressed several piano keys, producing a sound dark, and said, 'I wrote letters to your mother on that 'computer', without it you would not be here. Sell ​​it? Never ... Little ones, this is a typewriter, it's like a computer but with paper, no Facebook and no pornalhada'."

Oh Boy! Sunburst Royal Portable Typewriter

Can you imagine how Buddy Holly felt the first time he laid his hands on a sunburst Fender? Well, if you can do that, you will have some idea of how I felt when I unpacked this sunburst Royal portable typewriter. Oh, boy!
Duane O'Neill in Fender country in California is working on an orange typewriter ribbon for me and this real beauty is screaming out for just such a thing. I'll wait until I hear how Duane gets on before typecasting with the sunburst Royal. Dying to type with it. Sunny days ahead ...

Monday 29 April 2013

Golightly Typewriter Goes Lightly; Connie Gustafson Stays in Obscurity

The Golightly-Riter Remington portable typewriter has gone lightly into the night - to a new home, as a gift to a new owner, my son Danny's friend Emily Hansen. It went with a pink Penguin copy of the book that it inspired its creation, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and a pink marshmallow (to be eaten while reading).
It went without a squeak as the world squealed at the revelation Holly Golightly had almost been Connie Gustafson.
Truman Capote's 1958 typescript with his handwritten edits has been sold at auction to Russian retail billionaire Igor Sosin for more than $300,000. The typescript was sold online by Amherst, New Hampshire-based auction house RR Auction.
Capote's handwritten notations include changing the femme fatale's name from Connie Gustafson to the now-iconic Holly Golightly.
 Audrey Hepburn as Holly.
Sadly, Connie Gustafson must remain in obscurity.

Typewriter in Bob Dylan's Back Pages

i went home an began writin
Four-and-a-half years ago, Simon & Schuster published a book called Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript, with "text by Bob Dylan". Despite this fact, it didn't sell. I picked a mint condition copy up at one of those bargain basement places, for about $5. I was curious that a book with "text by Bob Dylan" and including a photograph of a man sitting at a Remington-Rand portable typewriter had been, at least to me, so obscure (and selling, new, at such a low price). At one time or another I think I have owned just about every book written about or by Dylan.
I discovered in a review written by The New York Times' Charles McGrath, under the heading "His Back Pages", that this book contained what Dylan himself, "in characteristic fashion had forgotten all about ... a series of 23 poems he wrote in the early 1960s to accompany a collection of Hollywood photographs by Barry Feinstein".
McGrath said the "Dylan archives [are] a cavernous storage space so full of odds and ends that even Dylan himself doesn’t know what’s in there. Just when you think the place has been emptied out, something new - a bootleg tape, some video footage, a collection of sketches and doodles - pops to light." McGrath called the tome "one of the oddest coffee-table books to come along in a while."
The reviewer said "That 'f' in 'foto-rhetoric' leads you to anticipate a volume in tabloidy, Hollywood Confidential style, and there are a couple of glimpses of weird Kenneth Anger-like Hollywood. But most of the photographs are more moody, even arty, than they are leering or sensational. Feinstein went on to become the court photographer of rock ’n’ roll royalty, but in the early ’60s he was working as a studio flunky for the mogul Harry Cohn, and he took these pictures backstage on movie sets or driving around town after hours.  They’re suffused with a kind of anti­glamour that was probably meant to be tough and unflinching at the time but now seems almost tender."
"What Dylan brings to this vision is a kind of antic surrealism, at times reminiscent of the liner notes he wrote for Highway 61 Revisited ... he is reluctant to call the text poetry. But they certainly look and read like poems, in tense, narrow lines, of just one or two beats sometimes, that stack on the page ...
"The style seems learned partly from the Beats, terse and jangly, with no capitalisation and lots of dropped letters: But the voice is reliably Dylanesque: Occasionally a poem will explicitly comment on the accompanying photograph. 
crashin the sportscar into the chandelier
i called up my best friend
somebody wiped their feet on me
an gave me some pills (See the name on the pill bottle)
i really have nothing against marlon brando
"More often the poems take off on the theme of a photo or enact a scenario ... suggested by it. And sometimes the relation of text to picture is pretty oblique. 
"Most of these poems, it must be said, read like the work of just a few moments. They lack the complexity, the emotional power of some of the great Dylan song lyrics [which] ­really can stand comparison to Marlowe, Keats and Tenny­son. They’re mostly riffs, the poetic equivalent of scale playing. On the other hand, you can read these little verses without humming the tune in your head, and they allow you to appreciate Dylan’s verbal dexterity — his gift for rhyme and free association — in isolation, as it were. This is the kind of quickness and improvisatory brilliance that allowed those great lyrics to happen. Nor is the text of Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric entirely rhetorical. The best poems add up to a wary meditation on fame and celebrity, on the disguises we all put on — themes to which he would later return."

Sunday 28 April 2013

QWERTY Under Attack - Yet Again!

It's time to man the barricades and marshal the revolutionary forces. QWERTY is under attack - yet again.
Fear not, brave Typospherians! In the coming battle, remember that QWERTY has been around for 140 years now, and has already seen off many a challenge, not the least of which came from Blickensderfer and from Dvorak. It's got a bit of form, which this latest challenger has not.
Know ye that it will see off KALQ too! 
Last week BBC Scotland News reported that "KALQ thumb-type keyboard takes on Qwerty".
As well, CNET reported "Android keyboard Kalq quicker than Qwerty, say scientists". 
The BBC said, "Researchers have created a new keyboard layout which they claim makes 'thumb-typing' faster on touchscreen devices such as tablets and large smartphones. Dr Per Ola Kristensson, from St Andrews University, Fife, Scotland, said traditional Qwerty keyboards had trapped users in 'suboptimal text entry interfaces'.
"The new design has been dubbed KALQ, after the order of keys on one line. Its creators used 'computational optimisation techniques' to identify which gave the best performance.
"Researchers at St Andrews, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany and Montana Tech in the US joined together to create the virtual keyboard, which will be available as a free app for Android-based devices. 
"According to the research team 'two-thumb typing is ergonomically very different' from typing on physical Qwerty keyboards, which were developed for typewriters in the late 19th Century.
"They claim normal users using a Qwerty keyboard on a touchscreen device were limited to typing at a rate of about 20 words per minute. This is much slower than the rate for normal physical keyboards on computers ...
"With the help of an error correction algorithm, trained users were able to reach 37 words per minute, researchers said. Dr Kristensson, lecturer in human computer interaction in the School of Computer Science at the University of St Andrews, said: 'We believe KALQ provides a large enough performance improvement to incentivise users to switch and benefit from faster and more comfortable typing.'"
Any new system developed by someone who uses the word "incentivise" is doomed before it even gets off the blocks, mark my words.
The developers will present their work at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris on Wednesday of this week (May 1).
Among 271 comments on the BBC website as of last night were these: "We already have two keyboard layouts, QWERTY for touch typing and the alphabetical layout of most number pads. Though this might help one-finger typists type faster on mobile devices, for touch typists like myself who use more than just two digits it's totally useless."
"I hope manufacturers will configure the OS to provide both and allow the users to flip between the two as required. Then we will see if it has a future."
"After using QWERTY for many years, and converting to Mac, finding the keyboard is just different enough to really screw up productivity (plus having XL 'man thumbs' anyway), not sure I'd want to adapt again."
"I have never seen a single person typing on a smartphone's screen in that manner ever! No one I know has used their thumbs to type since old school phones with number pads! It's all index fingers now!"
A PDF of the research is here.
A Max Planck Institute information sheet titled "Improving Two-Thumb Text Entry on Touchscreen Devices" is here.
A video is here.
Of the QWERTY challengers listed below, from Wilf Beeching's Century of the Typewriter, the closest to KALQ is the Fitch of 1886.
Let's remind ourselves that KALQ is way, way behind the eightball here. The reason is simple. People use QWERTY. Have done for 140 years, almost six generations. That's what they use on computer keyboards. The most serious challenge yet to QWERTY came from Dvorak, and at the end of the day Dvorak was abandoned because it it took too long to retain people who had being using QWERTY. That meant everybody. If you can erase the collective memory of six generations across the English-speaking world, you've got a chance. Otherwise, forget it.

One Man's (Typewriter) Art ....

This looks like a scene from Switzerland. And as Georg says over there at Sommeregger's Sammelsurium, "The typewriter keeps inspiring artists." But I think I might be repeating, though not necessarily 1000 times, Ken Nichol's succinct Australian brush-off if asked the price of a decent typewriter for a sample of the work of Kasper Pincis. Maybe it's just me.
Pincis, 31, lives and works in London. His materials and tools are newsprint, typewriters, carbon paper, a photocopier, pencils, Letraset and slides.
He finds his typewriters in the Deptford market, a fruit and vegetable and antiques and bric-a-brac market near Greenwich, south-east London.
Pincis includes typewriters in what he calls the "aesthetics of literature and academia", and says they provide a "clarity" which is a constant in his practise.
A blurb explains, "To be typed rather than written: the idea of typing as a separate medium in and of itself plays a key role in Pincis' work. The typing machine, generally seen as old fashioned - known and outdated - may be something understandable as it already refers to something. Standing in between a certain progression it was an important invention, but is no longer used. Recently the incorporation of pencil drawing to typewriter pieces has linked two of Pincis' streams of work. In Navajo Rug, for instance, a typewriter grid gives rhythm and centre to an image taken form an old North American textbook." 
Pincis studied at Camberwell College of Art, gained a BA in Fine Art and History of Art from the Goldsmiths College, University of London, in 2004 and graduated from the Royal Academy in 2007.
Interestingly (given my previous post), one of Pincis's favourite source books is The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Thor Heyerdahl.