Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Gifted ROYAL Quiet De Luxe

I love typewriters!  And, like many aficionados of these fine machines, my tastes have become more refined.  Sometimes I enjoy aesthetics more than function, but the latter has become more important to me over time.  That and unique typefaces.

With that in mind, I posed a rhetorical question to my brother the recovering newspaper journalist turned teacher (paraphrased):
Me:  Would you be interested in a portable typewriter?
Answer:  Maybe.
Me:  That's as good as "yes" to me.  So, would you prefer something classic with glass keys, or something more modern that might be a tad easier and have a few more functions?
Answer:  You know, I would really like something that Hemingway might have used to write columns in the field.

Ding! Ding! Ding!  We have a winner!

As it turns out, I have two machines that Hemingway might have preferred.  The first, a Corona 3, is still a little glitchy and takes an uncommon ribbon (my brother is unlikely to transfer new ribbons on to existing spools).  The second is a 1947 Quiet De Luxe.  I love the typeface on this one and it is very easy to get along with.  But with multiple odd typefaces to choose from and the Torpedo 18 being my favorite overall machine, this poor QDL spent all of its time in a case.

So out came the QDL for a final cleaning and wrapping up with a bow for Christmas.  Thanks to MagicMargin for posting tips on cleaning wrinkle finish.
The technique worked great on the QDL.  It looked pretty good to start with, but the cleaning pulled off a lot of embedded skin oil and dust.  I cheated a bit with the case.  Even after washing it still looked pretty dull.  I wiped it down with just the slightest bit of penetrating lube and it looks fabulous!

Oh, credit where credit is due to the Classic Typewriter Page for resources on writers and their typewriters:

I was surprised at what a difference proper cleaning makes.  I had already lubed the mechanical bits earlier this year, but it really didn't need much more than that and a new ribbon to work like new.

Such pretty keys - and forever safe from key choppers!

I am helping my Dad resurrect a 50s square QDL.  It received lube service and 25% cotton paper for Christmas.  I am unhappy to report that my local Office Max no longer appears to carry standard large ribbon spool replacements.  There are tiny spools hiding inside the box on the peg where these normally were found.
The bow deserves its own photo.  It is vintage from a collection of ribbons and bows my step-mother had kept from her days of running a clothing store.  So sparkly!

How's this for subtle wrapping?  We hid it inside a bag until time for the official gift distribution.
I am happy this machine has a good home and will be used on a regular basis.   My brother plans to keep it in his office and have students do occasional laps with it just so they can see how old school journalists kept it real.

My girls liked the QDL and its typeface, but understood the need to have machines in use.  Besides, Claire got an Olympia Socialite for Christmas.  But that machine, and her sister's Olympia SF, are a topic for a later blog entry.

Note to the Typosphere:  After creating a more than adequate back story for the Christmas Squirrel, I realized that I have done zippo typewriter related since my travels to Florida earlier in the month.  For those of you that like more regular typewriter posts, thanks for the patience - especially with the weird Star Wars knockoff. 

One of my vacation projects was to get our computer setup more refined.  The scanner now lives next to the Dell Precision 4600 (new refurb) connected conveniently through a Tardis USB hub.  And to think my first exposure to computers was a cutting edge Apple II way back when.  At any rate, scanning typecasts should be an easier task.  Now I just need to clean off my old laptop for Claire and convert an old tower into a RAID Network Attached Server.  Etc.

Bonus factoid:  Claire and I are going to start attending an amateur radio class the first Saturday in January.  This is her idea and she really wants a broadcast license.  Guess that means we'll be shopping for radio gear in the next few months.  I'm guessing that NERDY1 is not a valid call sign.  Too bad.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Origins of the Christmas Squirrel- Part 2: A Hero is Born

Our Shrine to the Christmas Squirrel.  Thanks for the socks!

Origins of the Christmas Squirrel:  Part 2
Enter the Hero Squirrel 

America loves its heroes to come from humble origins. But who could have guessed that the squirrel who saved Christmas was a carnival sideshow reject?

Zippy the Squirrel was the youngest member of the famed “Amazing Bushytail Family”, a staple of the carnival sideshow scene in the Wisconsin Dells from 1906-1953. The Bushytails deserved their fame. In addition to their renowned prowess on the flying trapeze, one brother was a large carnivore tamer, two sisters juggled fire and miniature chainsaws and the oldest brother performed a strongman routine – once lifting a clown car with a complete complement of the visiting nineteen member Ringling Brothers' clown contingent.

Zippy, unfortunately, possessed only one somewhat unmarketable skill: he could run really fast.

It's not that the Dells' management didn't try to market Zippy. For awhile, he was the “Amazing Flash”; a gray blur racing around the three rings while the rest of the family was up on the high wire. Audience members that even noticed considered that act to be boring. They gave him skates and had him do Jammer duty during human short track competitions. He was too fast and the roller girls went on strike until he gave up the jersey.

Fortunately, what Zippy lacked in marketable athletic skills were more than compensated for by his charm and wit. During a fleeting flirtation with literature, audiences were enthralled when Zippy took on the title role of “Othello” on the side stage.

Zippy came to love the bright lights and Shakespearean intrigue. He loved the attention. More than anything else, he loved making the children in the audience laugh as he threw in a few off-script motions inspired by the great Charlie Chaplin. It looked like he had found his niche.

And then came the Santa market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression. Audiences who could still afford the carnival turned their attention to more dramatic and pedestrian fare such as staged cage matches between the Two-Headed Woman and the Tattooed Man.

While the rest of his family toiled to create ever more dangerous, and enticing, carnival fare, Zippy was relegated to the back bench. He assisted with ticket sales, kept the books and helped dole out money (when there was any) to the performers at the end of each week. He took his job seriously, but missed the bright lights and the feeling that he was actually accomplishing something. He was saddened to see that the few children who showed up were generally worse for wear. They were grubby and wore tattered shoes and socks nearly ready to fall off their feet. For these Depression battered kids, smiles were few and far between.

But it was in the back office that Zippy learned to love listening to the radio. While his personal misery increased along with the rest of the nations, he could take solace in the weekly radio dramas.

By 1933, the carnival was in pretty sorry shape. Zippy shared the near fanatical dedication of the owners to the cast and crew, but money could only go so far. So far, his families skills kept them from the fate of Henrietta the Dancing Pig (pork chopped) and Sid the Singing Horse (stew). He missed his friends and feared for his family. He desperately wanted to help. He wanted the carnival to go on...and he wanted to see children smile once again.

The year 1933 should be remembered as the year that everything changed, but it was a year that people prefer to forget. However, this was the year a new hero emerged. A hero who loved the radio. A squirrel who turned out to be the best and most willing audience for FDR's Fireside Chats.

In the Fireside Chat of August 22nd, FDR talked of the Origins of the Great Depression and attempted to soothe the fears of a public weary of Edison's annual September propaganda on the failure of the Sleigh of Holding. “Christmas will come!”, his voice practically boomed from speakers in living rooms across America. He announced the creation of the Sleigh Engineering Corps; the WPA's version of the manned lunar landing program of the 1960s. FDR spoke of patience and hope. “With the formation of the SEC, the formidable might of U.S. science and industry will solve the Santa problem by 1940. We will help put a present under every tree, provide clothing for babes in arms and a turkey for every table. No longer will Americans suffer through the indignity of squirrels in every pot.”

It was these words that triggered Zippy's moment of Genius. He saw in a flash that the real problem wasn't the lack of overall sleigh capacity. The problem was in the trivial, yet necessary, things that were placed in the sleigh along with presents that brought joy and hope.

It was in that moment that Zippy declared, “I shall bring them socks!”

In the dead of night, Zippy gathered his family together and shared his daring plan. He piled a knapsack full of nuts and with a cheery farewell darted off to the North Pole under an Aurora draped sky.

Hope Arrives

With the help of government mathematicians, Claus Enterprises calculated to the second when output and capacity would collide to yet again doom Christmas. The evening of September 21st found Santa well into his fourth eggnog awaiting the inevitable resonant blast of the steam horn announcing their annual bottleneck. He fell into a fitful slumber, face down in a Sears catalog.

He was surprised to be awakened by the Chief Elf shaking his shoulder. He was shocked to see the time: 2:00 AM tomorrow! Yes, it was September 22nd and, like magic, the Sleigh of Holding was still accepting a tremendous volume of goods running off the main plant's conveyor.

The Chief Elf could hardly contain his excitement as he informed Santa that the sleigh had been remeasured and that new calculations indicated it would keep up with the assembly lines until Christmas Eve!

Santa straightened his hat, squared his shoulders and picked up the red phone to call the President. By sunrise, FDR had signed the controversial Executive Order mobilizing the National Guard to stop the presses and forever end the distribution of the annual “Santa Fails” edition of newspapers across the country. He took to the airwaves on September 24th to deliver the good news and decry the excesses of the media barons in what later came to be known as the “Tesla Was Right!” Fireside Chat.

Christmas was coming. And hope had arrived.

There Will be Heroes

In the rush to get ready for Christmas, Santa did not have the time to contemplate exactly what might have happened with his sleigh. Given the past four years of misery, he was quite content to be thankful for miracles.

Christmas Eve arrived and Santa launched with a full sleigh and a long and blissfully complete address list. Imagine his surprise during his first delivery of the evening. Up on the roof, he started unloading and checking items off the “good” list:

A chainsaw for Dad. Check!
A new dress for Mom. Check!
A violin for little Susie. Check!
A BB gun for little Billy. Check!
New socks for all... “What!”

“What?”, Santa almost shouted. “No socks! Surely the elves packed socks for them!”

But as he rummaged frantically through the sleigh, he discovered that not only were there no socks for the Aaronsons of Eastport, Maine, there were no socks at all! None! The sleigh was absolutely barren in the sock department.

Santa vacillated between shock and anger as he dropped down the chimney. His feelings turned toward pure shock when he found that the Aaronsons' hearth was already adorned with neatly arranged, brand new socks!

The pattern repeated throughout the evening. Every house already had warm, comfy socks under Christmas trees, on mantles and tucked neatly in stockings.

Santa was high over Omaha when he finally started to put two and two together. “Hmmm...maybe it wasn't Tesla after all...”

On a normal Christmas Eve, Santa's long journey would end in Ozette, Washington before turning north and home. But this was no normal Christmas and Santa saved a special transcontinental sprint for his last stop. Onward to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue he flew with the jet stream to his back.

He was greeted by a grateful FDR in a strangely dark and quiet Oval Office. But Santa had to break a bit of bad news while celebrating the good. Few people knew of FDR's paralysis; one side effect being that his feet always felt cold. “I am sorry good sir.” Santa said in a sad, quiet voice, “But I don't have any new woolies for your feet.”

As if on cue, they heard a skittering sound cross the roof and then come down the chimney. And there, emerging from the fireplace, came an ash and soot covered bushy tail followed by the rest of Zippy with two pairs of hand-woven goodness clamped firmly between his teeth.

And that, dear readers, is how Zippy Bushytail saved Christmas. With new found optimism, the American people dug in and started to turn the economy around. But that Christmas evening in 1933, FDR, Santa Claus and the Christmas Squirrel agreed that the country was still hanging by a thread and that some secrets are best well kept. The Executive Order directs the Secret Service to scatter fresh acorns on the White House roof every December 24th in perpetuity. It also allows this particular state secret to be unsealed on December 25, 2133.

State Christmas Secrets are well protected in an undisclosed location.  Thanks to Wikileaks for helping liberate the true story of the Christmas Squirrel.  Otherwise, this vault will not be opened until Christmas, 2133.
 On the latter subject, you will have to pretend you have never seen the true story of the Christmas Squirrel. You will certainly have to deny knowing its source. So, from the author, I wish you a hearty Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year!

Now, please move along. Nothing to see here. ;-)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the whole crew at vintagetechobsessions!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

On the Origins of the Christmas Squirrel - Part 1

Have you ever wondered how socks and underwear show up in your Christmas stocking or under your festive Christmas tree?  You might have suspected that frugal parents and grandparents were giving you things you need along with things you want.  Worse yet, you might have suspected that Santa was trying to suck all the joy out of your Christmas morning experience.

The truth, dear reader, is closer than you might think.  Do you have trees in your back yard?  Do squirrels cavort merrily about, darting to and fro as they gather food for the impending dark, cold months known as Winter?

You might be surprised to learn the true motives of your neighborhood squirrels go far beyond the mere needs of survival.  You see, the squirrel metabolism runs really fast, especially for the one squirrel who zips around the world assisting Santa.  The Christmas Squirrel needs fuel and the tribe obliges.

No one thinks to leave the Christmas Squirrel acorns and milk.  The lowly squirrel is forgotten and ignored, but carries forth on its mission cheerfully and with great aplomb.  It is a faithful servant.  Many say it is a hero that Santa cannot live without.

Where did this forgotten hero come from?  I'm glad you asked.

 Part 1:  History in the Making

 The Origins of the Christmas Squirrel

  Once upon a time, the world was a much smaller place.  In the intervening years between various plagues, the tribes of northern Europe adopted gift giving traditions inspiring the emergence of the prototypical Father Christmas.  Their North American mutt descendents brought the old traditions with them through Ellis Island and points west.

The American Santa got to work in the 1830s.  The United States was small at roughly 7 million souls spread wide across farm and field.  The portly and jolly Santa was a surprisingly good sprinter and dispatched his yearly mission with ease.

The Industrial Revolution brought new challenges as cities grew along with the population.  Santa was no technological slouch.  He took to the skies at the turn of the last century.  The famed patented device "Flying Sleigh and Reindeer" revolutionized Christmas.  

As the American population grew, so did Claus Enterprises' manufacturing and distribution system.  Santa was all about efficiency.  Still, it was one man, Santa Claus, that took it upon himself to visit every house, hovel and tenement that would have him.

Fortunately, technology stayed apace with the collaboration of Erwin Schrodinger and Nikola Tesla.  Quantum theory and practical application of phased particle transmission lead to the creation of the fabled Mass Uncertainty Holding Device - more commonly known as the Sleigh of Holding.  Although several patents were applied for, none were issued as Marconi and Edison both claimed credit for the invention.  The resulting lawsuits finally reached the Supreme Court in February of this year.

Edison, however, was right on one count:  there was a practical limit to AC electricity and its application to mobile mass conversion and storage systems.

Santa hit the technological wall in September of 1929. At 123 million American recipients and counting, the output of the mighty Claus manufacturing empire choked on the unexpectedly limited capacity of the Sleigh of Holding.

Santa tried to keep this calamity quiet.  But Edison caught wind of his misfortune and had other ideas. He set his marketing team to work on a program to discredit his old foe Tesla, and AC electricity, for once and for all.

The news broke nearly simultaneously across the country precipitating the stock market collapse of October, 1929.  As the saying goes, "What's good for Santa is good for the country." It turns out the opposite is true, as well.

The Christmas of 1929 was grim.  Santa had to chose what to leave behind.  With tens of millions of residents under-served, American optimism waned.  With each passing year, sentiment and the economic situation worsened.  If Americans could not count on Santa Claus, who could they count on?

Coming Soon! - Part 2:  The Coming of the Christmas Squirrel


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wishing you a Merry Retro Christmas!

I love Christmas!  For a photographer and fan of all things retro and kitsch, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  Vacation is coming and I will have time to catch up on typecasting, but in the meantime here are a few signs of Christmas from years gone by.

We'll start with the creative and crafty.  Fortunately, I have encountered no objects made from slaughtered typewriters.

This is an amazing assemblage of otherwise forgotten silver serving ware.

It took one of my musically inclined kids to notice that these include old sheet music.

I keep forgetting how cool the cup and light decorations look.
Of course, the decorations we find today in our local big box store will look like it came from a certain era.  I am fascinated how materials and design can become so thoroughly embedded in a cultural period.  Will we look back on the light up inflatable yard creatures and remember a long, long recession, or will we wax nostalgic upon 2011 twenty years from now?

This little guy reminded me of David Sedaris and his Santaland Diaries monologue.  "Oh little Elf..."

From the "What were they thinking?" category.

Once upon a time, someone thought this gift set looked cute as opposed to vaguely disturbing.
And then there are the many faces of Santa. 
Such a heavy burden.

Wise Santa is watching.
There is such a thing as too happy.

Glowing, blow molded decorations remind me of my own childhood.  I can't say a single mean or snarky thing about them.  This is as about as good as Christmas gets.
We're preparing for Christmas.  The girls got through concert season.  My wife has been baking up a storm.  We're doing a bit of shopping and enjoying the challenge of family handmade-or-thoughtful-and-less-than-$5.00 presents.  I have two typewriters in cleaning and service mode (SM9 with robot type and a Wizard branded Brother) getting ready for gifting to the next generation of addicts.  Vacation starts the day after tomorrow.  All is well.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Travels with Trollie

Gators can only wish they were as attractive as Trollie.

Trollie loves elaborate desserts!

He has his eye on high class bling available in downtown Naples.

You might not have guessed that he is a friend to all children.

Soak him in vinegar for three days and he might soften up a bit.

Perhaps he could use a protector.  Yes, this is all downtown Naples.

Um. some coffee just isn't drinkable.

"Poor gator!", my wife replied upon receiving a text with this image.

He looks right at home in the Big Cypress Preserve.

Strangler figs  are pretty tricky.
Please excuse the margins of Typecast Part 2.  In true Florida style, it has more than a few hanging chads.
Yes, the heading should read "Swamp Lair" as opposed to "Swap Lair".  This is one of the joys of typecasting.  This one comes courtesy of the Royal Futura 800.  Saying it is cursive would be redundant if it weren't for the existence of search engines.

So Part 2 of the typecast sounded a bit extreme.  I think the proprietor was in the process of selling the handgun in question to a fellow enthusiast.  Sure, this was happening less than 100 feet away from a busy state highway that passes through the Everglades National Park.  The right to bear arms does not take a break for traffic; not in this part of America anyway.

I have to say that it was an impressive gun.  On the first loud and low pitched shot, I thought it might have been a muzzle loader.  Nope, just Dirty Harry grade large caliber fun!

I regret not capturing an image of the fake tourist family surrounding the 40 foot panther but I suspected the shooter was not the type that liked having his picture taken by strangers.  Here is the really strange part:  I have driven this road roughly a dozen times and only now noticed these impressive sculptures.  I do a lot of photography and am pretty observant.  If I did not have photographic evidence of Trollie and the Skunk Ape, I might have been concerned about my sanity.

It occurred to me later that covering a giant panther with camouflage netting overnight is a practical approach.  It's a pretty valuable piece of property that needs protection from aerial observation what with all those UFOs and U.N. black helicopters cruising above the swamps.

Trollie and the roadside Skunk Ape.  You only think your eyes are playing tricks on you.

Imagine yourself inside this store and taking this photo when the gunfire starts.  Yeah, it was a surreal experience, but I try not to be an average tourist.  Honestly, it didn't freak me out since I was in new experience mode.  I would have been more concerned in an urban setting.

A haven for outdoors types and rugged individuals.  This is on the loop road to the south of Tamiami Trail.

 I don't want to leave a bad impression, so here is the other real Florida.  The guided swamp walk through a slough in the Fakahatchee Strand was awesome!  Except for the dried out pools, this is all part a really wide and shallow running river.  The water is clear and cold with nary a gator or venomous snake to be seen.  In the deeper water the mosquitoes were surprisingly scarce.  I still put on 100% DEET to be on the safe side.

Merry Christmas from all of us!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Irrational Exuberance: The Spacebot Star Wars Knockoff

There are some things in this world that are so uniquely ugly they are beautiful in their own way.  Such is the case of the Spacebot.  I've seen photos of these Darth Vader Bootleg/Knockoff things, but I never thought I would actually get to hold one.

Finding these at a Dollar store made we way happier than I should have been.  As much as I love real classic robots and space toys, the funky fugly toys are in a class of their own.  As the title implies:  irrational exuberance.

Just in case you don't make it all the way to the end of this photo set, I will go ahead and recommend one of the finest online collections of ugly robots for your perusal.  If you don't make it to the end, you will miss the best part.  I won't hold it against you, really.

ToyboxDX Forum Fugly Challenge

Without further ado, I present the Spacebot twins (and friends).

Even the packaging screams "quality".
You push the button and all kinds of things light up in concert with an incredible collection of digital noise and Star Wars blaster sounds.

Meet Darth Albino

Yep, albino glowing red eyes.  Well, make that a glowing red skull.  The plastic is a bit thin what with the recession and all.

A face only a mother or a true nerd could love.

They look even better off the cards.  The light saberish thing lights up in Anakin blue.

Is the pen truly mightier than the sword?

What if you have R2C4 for backup?

That's how Will rolls.
You cannot win, Darth.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Late Maker Nerd News

This blog is still pretty new.  I was reminded of this as I looked through existing photo collections for new material and inspiration.  I'm preparing for a week on the road and Blogger will help me by putting up posts on schedule and in my absence.  Tricky... I've done this before on a recent business trip.

I want to keep this blog fresh and lively.  "Fresh" to me means diverse content and recent events.  The downside is that there are have been some awesomely nerdy events that happened in the recent pre-VTO blog era that I think deserve mention.

Today's nerd event (actually from June) was a first for Kansas City - we got our own mini Maker Faire this year!  So exciting!  We even delayed leaving town on a family trip to hang out here.  Before the Kansas City event was announced, I had considered a special trip to Detroit or the Bay Area for their Maker Faires.

I am really stoked on the emergence of a modern Maker movement.  It is second nature for people who like opening things up to see how they work or figuring out how to turn something old into something new.  In my personal opinion, the purely organic and spontaneous emergence of all things Maker is one of the things that will keep America from lapsing into an innovation deprived coma.  No Child Left Behind isn't doing a whole lot to stimulate creativity along with test scores.  Oops.  Got political there.

Bonus story courtesy of MAKE Magazine:  Economist Magazine on the Maker Movement 12-2011

So, presented for your viewing pleasure is a total nerd overload known as the Maker Faire.
Claire with Super Awesome Sylvia.  She is sporting the finest in Olathe Northwest Ravonics Team 1710 FIRST Robotics wear.  This is currently her high school of choice.

Slyvia and her Dad, the Tech Ninja.  This is a family of Makers.  Slyvia video blogs on tech and science projects in plain language even mortals can understand.  Tech Ninja runs a website and blog of his own.  They travel the country for Maker Faires.

Claire with a new friend.  Yeah, this took some coaxing.

Thanks Mr. Tesla for your coils.  Thank you to Mr. Faraday for the protective cage.  And thanks to Arc Attack for teaching coils to sing and creating such visual nerd goodness.  P.S.:  Claire has a slight Tesla/AC fixation.  Don't get her started.

Homegrown Kansas nerdom from Topeka.

This has to be the best use of scrap computer parts I've seen all year.

Welcome to the thrills and spills of Power Wheels Racing!  What is it?  Start with dumpster or garage sale kiddy toys, add deep cycle marine batteries and real motors and let the fun begin!  In this case, something electrical overheated.

Competitors get extra credit for flair.

I'm jealous.  I want to build one of these.
 Next year, the Kansas City Maker Faire should be bigger and better.  There is a Fab Lab located in the Northland and at least two hacker spaces in the Metro I am aware of.  I hope you enjoyed the photos of the future engineers of America club.

There are more photos on my Fotki site at