Friday, January 27, 2012

These aren't the Droids you are looking for.

I made a big mistake.  I forgot we were in the depths of Winter when I posted the sad tale of Annabelle the bear in the "Princess Doesn't Live Here Anymore" post.  I've decided to change up the order of scheduled posts in order to bring you, kind reader, something relentlessly cheerful.  And what could be more cheerful than toys?

Maybe bootleg toys?  Or, wait for it... bootleg Star Wars toys!

Being prototypical Nerds, we are, not surprisingly, Star Wars fans.  I say that in the best way, as in having watched the films in the theater and seen the lost Luke-hanging-with-his-worthless-friends-at Toshi-station footage at a small Con in 1981.  In our world, we can still remember the matte outlines around the Tie fighters and distinctly remember Han shooting first.  Greedo didn't stand a chance.  By the way, Han never stepped on Jabba's tail and Darth Vader distinctly does not cry out in anguish.

Alright, we are militant, purist Nerds.  Guilty as charged.

Star Wars brought a lot of cool things into the Nerd underground.  The whole concept of fully functional robotic servants and spies was pretty awesome.  Of course one of the fundamental principles of economics is that success breeds success.  Sometimes that takes shape in one of my favorite things:  bootleg toys.

Behold the madness that is Hong Kong bootleg Star Wars toys!  Creating bootlegs is easy.  Making them memorably strange takes a bit more effort and a pinch of creative insanity.

Step 1:  Copy basic forms from a popular film.
Step 2:  Rummage through the molds of knockoff toys your company has already made.
Step 3:  Mix and mutate!

The image below comes from a Hong Kong toy trade show catalog from the early 1980s.  I was fortunate to snag three years worth of these on ebay a couple of years ago.

Following the "mix and mutate" principle (which I just made up), the cleaver toymaker combined the body of a knockoff Horikawa rotating robot with a brand new stormtrooperish head.  This toy was actually made (more below).

On the other hand, I have never seen any evidence that the funky R2-D2 ripoff was actually distributed.  Remember that the purpose of a trade show is to get people to buy your stuff and put it in a private labeled box on a shelf.  Some concepts don't make it that far and R2 appears to be a lost toy.  Too bad- the chest guns might have come in handy on the first Death Star.

Below, we have evidence of another lost toy.  I wish this one had been made.  The body is a mishmash of semi-bootleg design.  While the form emulates Japanese toys of the '60s, I can't pin down one in specific.  This combination in black with a stormtrooper head is pure genius!

The Silver Warrior (left) and Super Astronaut (right) are among the favorite toys in my collection.  The mechanical systems are pretty poor and none can be expected to walk and rotate, but they look great.

I've been fortunate enough to find these at a decent price.  Many of the Japanese tin and plastic robots are scarce and valuable.  Increasingly, collectors have turned their attention to the Taiwan and Hong Kong robots of the late '60s through early '80s.  Prices have gone up and Star Wars is always a strong draw.

If you interested in the wild world of robot toys, you can find more on my Fotki site at

I'll leave you with some insanely fun box art.  By the mid '70s, many toys had transitioned to window box or photographed front panel boxes.  These were packed in something resembling classic Japanese robot boxes with a creative twist.

You only think you are hallucinating.

I love the Death Star style moon on this panel.  The mixture of photography and hand done graphics is only a little over the top.  It reminds me of 'zine art.

If you think this looks crazy, check out the box art collection for Horikawa toys on the Alphadrome site at
Just because one space toy is never enough...
"These aren't the droids we're looking for.  Move along!"

Update, March, 2011:  Thanks to the joys of traffic monitoring on the Blogger platform, I tracked back to a great blog featuring other variations on this Star Wars rip-off theme.  Go here to see the ultra-cool gloss black variation of the Silver Warrior:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Princess Doesn't Live Here Anymore (A Bummer Typecast)

 My wife and I were out for a walk around the neighborhood and encountered a sorry sight by the curb.  This would fall in the "abandoned" category.
Typed on the Hermes Media 3

I felt sorry for this stuffed animal.
This little bear is the saddest thing I've seen in a long time.  She was face down in the gutter, but I thought she deserved to see the sun before her long journey to the landfill.  Our neighborhood is prowled by Jawas, so there is always a slim chance that someone picked up Anabelle and took her home. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Something Different: A Royal Portable in Chrome and Woodgrain

Today I have something pretty special to share with the Typosphere.  I've scoured the Interweb high and low with nary a trace to be found of this color scheme.  I've seen silver plated Coronas in a couple of places.  There is also the nearly mythical gold plated Royal of Ian Fleming fame.  I am aware of chromed Olivers designed for tropical duty.  The Typosphere is also populated with fine examples of aluminum body typewriters stripped and polished.

And I finally found a close cousin of this Royal Portable!  I should have checked Robert Messenger's Museum blog first given his vast and beautiful array of typewriters.   His machine appears to be a second generation Portable dressed head to toe in shiny chrome.  Gorgeous!

Before I get carried away, I invite any of you possessing a chrome and  wood grain Royal to step forward lest I totally embarrass myself.  I think this is a fairly unique machine.  Even if it is not, there will now be a digital record with plenty of photos.

Oooo.... shiny!

Here is the chrome and wood grain Royal Portable looking shiny and clean.  For the record, I don't smoke, but the lighter seemed to fit the scene.  So would a .38 Special and a tumbler full of Scotch on the rocks.
This Royal Portable came to me by way of ebay a couple of months ago.  I finally got around to cleaning it on a freak warm January day.  The seller was located in New Jersey and I was unable to get a back story on the machine.  It wasn't dirt cheap, but it cost just a smidge more than the average black machine of the era.  I was the only bidder.
This is a first generation Royal Portable as indicated by the exposed ribbon spools.  The chrome is high quality and in really great shape with only a few tiny rust pits.  Not bad after 83 years!
According to the Typewriter Serial Number Database, my Royal was manufactured in 1929.  Based on the overwhelming and toxic mold/mildew smell, it would appear that much of its life was spent in a basement.
Egregiously reflective chrome typewriter porn shot.
Under normal circumstances, I would not bathe a rare machine.  In this case I had no choice.  The chrome shell smelled toxic even after removing it for hand washing.  So into the sink the chassis went with a mixture of ionic and non-ionic surfactants.  I was reluctant to take this step after having a mixed outcome with the sans serif Everest K2.

I kept the keys above water for the immersion bath (2 wash + 2 rinse cycles).  The prior owner of long ago was rightly proud and appears to have displayed it prominently in a house full of cats.  Even after dry brushing, the wash water was beyond disgusting with fur, dirt, old oil and pencil and eraser shavings.

The one advantage to basement storage is that the rubber rollers are still flexible.  Excess humidity is good for something!

The case, I am reasonably sure, is beyond salvaging and will need to be burned.  It is in great condition, but the smell...oh, my!  Perhaps a friendly key chopper will have an extra case I can pick up on Etsy or Ebay.
I hand washed and waxed around the two decals on back.  After looking at many photos online, I was surprised to see little rhyme or reason to Royal decal placement.  Some machines have decals on front and some don't.

This is a generic Royal type face with markings identical to those on a Royal De Luxe from a decade later.  My lovely macro lens brings out the best and the worst.  I really need to hit the type slugs with mineral spirits.
Since I am unable to find evidence of the existence of similar Royal Portables, this one is something of a mystery to me.  We love the color combination (or lack thereof)!  Having grown up in the 70s in the back of a family Ford station wagon with peeling wood grain flapping in the wind, I am not normally a fan of that particular look.  However, the paint work is well done and quite durable as evidenced by my washing experience.
Yes, it is time for a photo overdose.  This machine looks great from just about any angle.

I wish manufacturers had not quit doing raised decoration on the paper tables.  The whitish smudge was already in the finish and didn't change with washing.  I have not yet decided which wax to try on the painted surfaces.
Please help solve the mystery of the chromed Royal.
Hooray!  The scanner is no longer on strike, so here is the type sample.

This machine types pretty well but it is loud and not well suited to late night typing.  The key feel is a bit heavier than the Triumph of the same era, but it should loosen up with a bit of exercise.

I look forward to your comments and speculations. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dear Congress: About SOPA...

Dear Congress,

This is the Internet calling.  You may take your SOPA back.  Thanks!
Public phones are going the way of SOPA in the U.S.  But they are alive and well and located every block or two apart in downtown Toronto.  This was one of those alternate reality things for me along with the lack of fragrances inside commercial buildings and the smokers parked right outside the same.

Greetings from a Happy Robot

The junk bots on this blog look vicious.

I'll admit enjoying the whole mythos of giant robots from space run amok and determined to take over our pretty, shiny planet.  But there are also heroic robots like R2-C4 that come out of nowhere to save humans from the literary slaughter. 
This is R2-C4.  You may have seen him defending William Shakespeare from the Spacebot.  I would classify him as a moderately vicious looking robot.  It's a good thing he is on our side.

I also have some totally happy and well adjusted junk bots I've built and similar collaborations with Claire.  She tends to save robotic destruction for cartooning and builds generally happy robots.

Unfortunately, those robots haven't been featured often enough and I need to alter the Happy Bot Quotient.

The following happy robot was built as a gift for a friend of the family's high school graduation.  She is a Harry Potter fanatic and one of the biggest Word Nerds we know outside of our own family - ironic as she is the child of an engineer and a math teacher.  She is relentlessly upbeat with a touch of snark and needed a friendly companion for the dorm.

With the exception of the after Halloween clearance arms, this bot was built with parts from my favorite thrift shop.  I was so excited to find a travel Lite Brite!  I can think of few things better for Word Nerds.
I didn't have time to add batteries, a switch and LEDs inside the camera.  The light stick arms really balances this guy's look.

Still charming with the lights off.
This robot has a lower recycled content than many due to the light sticks.  All of the assembly hardware came from yard and estate sale garage and basement collections.  We often use LEDs and sound boards recovered from dead or unwanted toys.

I have to admit a bit of existential angst after reading Robert Messenger's post on typewriter vandalism (more commonly known as Key Chopping in North America).  It's hard for me to know where to draw the line between junk and history when gathering parts.  Happy Meal toys are easy as there are whole tubs full that go unsold and end up in the thrift store dumpster.  My Spousal Unit would probably not be shocked to learn that I have scrounged things out of said dumpster.

Both the Lite Brite and the Kodak Hawkeye were garage sale rejects that still had their masking tape price stickers.  Still, the Hawkeye is unique.  I do save and display a variety of point and shoots from the 1930s-1970s.  So the line is fuzzy at times and subject to fits of whimsy on my part.  Generally, the higher the technology and mechanical level, the less likely I am to turn it into a robot part.

So there you have it: a happy robot with a side of angst.  This probably won't be the last happy robot to earn a spot on Vintagetechobsessions.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Typing Heavy Metal

Typed on a Torpedo 18 (Because I am too lazy to take another one out of a case.)
Linkage to the official music video on YouTube:
White Zombie - Black Sunshine with Iggy Pop

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Everest K2 with a Serif Allergy

Serifs are seriously overrated in certain alternative universes.  This typeface is a total mystery.  Any ideas from the Typosphere?  Side note:  I had to photograph this because when a HP all-in-one printer/scanner runs out of black ink, it won't even let you run the scanner.  I am reminded of why printers are so cheap.  Our HP 4400 deserves a generic replacement cartridge in repayment.
The Everest K2 has a classic shape.  I purchased less for the color than the typeface.
The body shell is all aluminum as are a number of components such as the key bar guide.
So, what does the number 20 stand for in Everest land?  I looked through most of the sans serif examples in the Munk's NOMDA guide and couldn't find an exact match.  We love the egregiously long "f"!  I suppose you could make a simpler lower case "d", but there wouldn't be a whole lot left.  The "h" is very fashion forward.

The color and style this De Luxe logo remind me of early 1950s Chevy sedans.
Maybe Everest had a dislike for serifs in general.  Alright, that is a bad theory given the identical machine in Robert Messenger's possession and Adwoa's shiny, black K2.

I like the odd little details.  I can easily imagine that lever inside one of the little Fiats now cruising around American cities. 

Does anyone have a controls diagram for this machine that they can scan?

I observed in the typecast that this typewriter still has a few issues.  I can't help comparing this to my German machines including the Olympia SM3s and the freakishly smooth Torpedo 18.  I had to do a lot of filing and bending to get parts to work on this machine due to alignment problems in the key bar slots.  That gave me a chance to get to know the mechanical bits well, with some problem yet to be discovered that is keeping the carriage from moving consistently.

My general opinion is that they tried hard, but there are just some basic design and finish issues that get in the way.  It isn't as slushy as the Royal Futura 800.  The cast aluminum frame is well done.  They didn't skimp on key tension springs.  With all that going for it, various alignment issues appear to have kept this machine from having been used very much.  The type slugs were already pretty clean when I got it.

Assuming I get the carriage draw tweaked, I think it will be a decent typer for short works.  The type face is really cool and joins the unique SM3 italic iterations and the Royal script in the household typing pool.  Guess I need to buy some new ribbons!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Christmas Was So Two Weeks Ago

It's interesting to me just how short the American post-Christmas attention span is.  We have this huge build up starting before Halloween (our local CVS had nutcrackers and zombie masks out at the same time), and by December 27th Christmas is just a dim memory made foggier by leftover cookies and family feast remains.

Christmas was so two weeks ago, but I am still enjoying gifts including a little something that Claire lovingly modified for my amusement.

We'll just say that no board book or mini bit of kitsch artwork is safe from her and her pens.  These particular books had moved from her closet to a donation pile over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Each page has an added hidden Nerd symbol.  The rocket was really hard to find.

Yep, every letter of the alphabet is now a monster.  At first I thought the "Q" was smoking a cigar - that is until the girls pointed out the fingernail.  Very much my kid in so many ways...
Claire received multiple sketch pads and pens for Christmas.
Thus ends Christmas 2011.  As long as the Mayans were wrong, we look forward to another season of lights and nerdy fun at the end of 2012.

Really, I mean it.  Christmas is over.  We take down the decorations this weekend.  Some people have a hard time letting go, but the the next post will be something entirely different - promise!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Maker Space - Teen Spirit Free of Charge

This page was scanned from the 1954 edition of "Science for Here and Now".  The student information inside indicates it was a second grade textbook in the Kansas City, Kansas schools.  It is a Good JuJu find from a couple of months ago.

Behold our new slate top work bench!  It should be impervious to solder, fire, many fine chemicals and Lego NXT pieces.  Metal bits can scratch slate, so we'll be careful with typewriter repairs and robot builds.

The real challenge is keeping a house full of book, crossword, pen, typewriter and electronics loving nerds from filling up this luscious horizontal space.  We will do our best and try to keep the major builds out by the drill press on the junk art bench.
Here is the new multipurpose maker space.  This was before addition of 200 watts of halogen lighting above.  This beast is all oak and the slate is 1 1/4" thick.  Yes, it as heavy as it looks.

I finally have a place to set up a proper soldering station.  This is our trial run with a new Radio Shack digital unit I picked up during one of their many sales.  It heats up quick.  Now we just need to improve our soldering skills.  I found the magnifier stand at a local thrift shop.
First Project:  I'm working with Claire on a kit we picked up at the Kansas City Maker Faire.  One of the local hacker spaces put together a pre programmed TV Be Gone.  It will be housed in a mini Altoids tin.  These things are the only way to stay sane in airports and waiting rooms.  I use my TV Be Gone selectively when it is obvious that no one is paying attention.  I've never noticed anyone even look up when the random, blaring TV suddenly goes dark.  Southwest terminals were horrible in 2010 and through the middle of this year.  I've noticed many of them have muted the screens except for football games.

This is what decades worth of teen spirit looks like.  There are few random gouges in the slate as well, but none profane.  Some of the graffiti looks pretty recent.  There is a Springfield, Missouri school district property tag on the bottom that can't be more than  20 years old.
This is somewhat benign teen spirit spoor.  Shelf liner covers up the worst of it.  Not that we or our middle schoolers have never seen four letter words.  Mild refinishing will have to wait for spring.
Well, my boring gray Royal Futura 800 looks like it grew out of the slate.  If I'm not careful, the color scheme may actually grow on me.