Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ephemeral Chicago Circa 1942

Keylime has a a NOS Silk-Spun brand silk ribbon and is now a crisp and happy camper.

I'm sorry to have missed the era of streamlined trains.

Today, the trains may look newer, but there is little difference in the appearance of the Lake and Wells line crossing.

Two of my favorite buildings:  The Wrigley and the Tribune.  The Wrigley features white terra cotta tile.

Deco style doesn't get much better than this.  So optimistic!
Back cover.  Chicago has pretty much anything a tourist could possibly want.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Found in the Wild: Olympia SM-7 with Congress Typeface

The serial number is just over 2,005,000 which should date this as a 1962 model.  Other than a hard platen, this typewriter performs flawlessly after application of PB Blaster.  Not bad for a 50-year-old machine!

The ribbon is old and will need replacement at some point as the red is really dry.  The platen is as hard as a rock.

This is the first time I have seen the "Made in Western Germany" statement so prominently displayed.
Isn't this machine pretty?  I have seen plenty of photos of the Olympia SM-7 online and honestly had not been impressed.  The in-person experience is much different.  As it turns out, the semi-random looking textured panel above the keyboard is well pressed metal and its look is mirrored in the bottom wedge paint - hammertone in a nice metallic grey.  The paint texture is similar to the 1959 Olympia SF and the Socialite that live with my girls.

The SM-7 shape is similar to the SM-9, but has more personality.  It does lack the basket shift and super-light touch that defines the SM-9.  The keys appear to have the shape of the SM-3's keys with the matte texture of the SM-9's variety.  These have a pleasant feel.

As nice as this machine looks, I would have left it behind had I not looked at the type bars.  I love the look of Modern Congress Pica.  My oldest daughter, Hannah, loves it as well and has started typing to catch up with a summer worth of activities on her blog.  As for performance, it feels the same as our SM-3 machines, also with special typefaces (Italic and Professional Elite).  The main difference is that those came from ebay and this looker was found in the wild.  That is a satisfying experience.

More typewriter porn.  I hope this helps some wayward SM-7s find good homes.  It is a machine deserving of our affection.
 Once again, thanks to Ted Munk for posting the NOMDA Blue Book Olympia Type Styles guide.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity, Welcome to Mars!

Great job, NASA!  You've gotten Curiosity to Mars!

First images coming..  The first image is a thumbnail of a wheel in the foreground and the horizon of Mars in the background.  The first full resolution image is the shadow of Curiosity on the face of Mars.

I watched the landing live through the NASA JPL feed and it is hard to believe how smoothly it went.  Every piece of the entry vehicle operated exactly as designed.  The communications equipment worked perfectly with only short dropouts as various portions of the entry vehicle separated.  The is a fantastic feat of engineering.  I can't wait to see the science this rover produces.

Update:  Added photos of Curiosity during its parachute descent phase taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Update 2:  The mother lode of space ephemera blogs posted a great image collection of how we have imagined travel to Mars:

Update 3:  Added photo of Curiosity's shadow with Mt. Gale in the background.

First High Resolution Image
Here is the first high resolution image from Curiosity.  The crud is dust on a protective shield that has now been lowered.
Fresh Image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter posted by NASA August 6:  Curiosity in descent under the hyper-sonic parachute.

Mission Control Post Landing Confirmation:  Here are a few shots of the control room post landing taken from my LCD.

Victory and relief.

This is the guy in charge of the entry vehicle team.  He cleaned up pretty good for someone who flunked Geometry in high school.

First images.  I'm still smiling!
Landing Plus 18 hours:  Curiosity's shadow with Mt. Gale in the background.  Our rover is going to climb that bad boy sometime during its two year mission.  "Our rover" as in during the press conference last night, the mission director mentioned that it cost each American around $7.00.  I think a little national pride is worth seven bucks.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Good Luck, Curiosity!

I stared writing this blog entry 4 days, 1 hour and 53 minutes before the scheduled touchdown of the rover Curiosity on Mars.  On Wednesday, the descent vehicle switched over to an on-board computer to control the landing cycle roughly 48 hours from now.  We're dependent on the work of a talented group of makers and 500,000 lines of code.  The landing cycle has been dubbed...

The Seven Minutes of Terror!

In a nutshell, the lander has to deliver the rover on target while scrubbing a lot of velocity in a relatively thin atmosphere.  And it can't kick up too much dust that will gum up the works of this precision machine.  Up until recently, the track record for landing on Mars was spotty at best.  My spousal unit and I used to joke about Martians shooting down our spacecraft in orbit.

Flying to Mars ain't like dusting crops!  Check out this skycrane action.  So cool!
  While writing this entry, I realized that it is totally redundant.  There is a massive Wikipedia entry on the subject.  NPR has been abuzz with news and interviews (the design team manager is a really interesting guy - a classic gifted underachiever that just needed a goal).  Viewing parties are popping up all over the country for late Sunday night.  So why write this?  I suppose it's because I don't always write for an audience.  This is my online journal and I am keenly interested in the space program, robotics and exploration.  It's kind of like my meaningful version of Facebook's Timeline.

So here I am asking some questions that I won't know the answer to until Monday morning:

Will Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, get a chance to work years past its scheduled mission end like Opportunity and Spirit?
Will it burn up in the atmosphere?
Will the supersonic parachute deploy?
Will the sky crane concept work?  What if the skycrane lands on Curiosity or if the cable doesn't release?
What if we just lose contact altogether?

I suppose I should trust the designers.  The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineered a fairly complicated system to get this machine down and operational in one piece.  Gravity is a harsh mistress, even on Mars.  Previous generations of rovers were much smaller and could be dropped inside inflated cocoons.  That's not so practical for a machine roughly the size of a small SUV!  The landing vehicle is part heat shield and part sky crane.  It is an audacious bit of engineering.  Because of the transmission time delay, Curiosity will be on the surface of Mars for fourteen minutes before its signal can reach Earth.

We space nerds can only cross our fingers and hope for the best.  In the meantime, here is a diagram of the landing cycle thanks to Wikipedia.

Behold the seven minutes of terror and more official videos at

Remember, Curiosity is a mobile science laboratory.  It is not dependent on solar power given its nuclear power pack.  And it is fully equipped to find traces of life or building blocks of life on the surface of mars.  Here's a bit about the science mission:

The good news is that the Opportunity rover hasn't been forgotten.  This plucky little bot is completing day 3,111 of its planned 91 day mission and is still producing good science.  Great job, NASA!  Oh, our family hasn't forgotten Spirit, either.  Someday, all of these machines will be stops on an interplanetary sightseeing tour. 

Good luck, Curiosity!

A family portrait:  Sojourner, Opportunity/Spirit, Curiosity greet friendly Martians.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Maker Faire KC: Fun with Electricity!

Welcome to the second installment on the 2012 Kansas City Maker Faire!  You can find background on the event on installment one presented on the topic of printing technology.  Today's post features a subject near and dear to me:  Fun with Electricity!  Let's get started.

The Quantum-Encabulator

This device lives in the "stuff and nonsense" category.  Every switch and dial makes different things happen including flashing lights, moving dials and fog. I didn't have a chance to chat with the maker, but it appeared to live with the stuff from the Cowtown Computer Congress, a Kansas City maker collective.
User beware!  Perhaps when I read a sign that says "DO NOT USE THIS SWITCH!" I should respond by leaving it alone.  Or not.  This little sucker actually delivers a mild electric shock!  At least I was not the only person that fell prey to this little prank.  I saw at least one high school age boy touch the handle.  Talk about impulse control issues!

This typecast is brought to you by a Remington Mark II.  It has the snappy and precise guts of a Torpedo 18 in a solid plastic body that looks something like the aftermath of a stingray becoming one with the Borg.  The machine does not look fabulous, but I got it for the the unique cursive typeface and a craving for Torpedo feel.
At Vintage Technology Obsessions, we support the excessive use of Nixie tube displays.  We have a Fluke multimeter equipped with Nixie tubes and have considered acquiring a clock kit on more than one occasion.

The Mad Scientist's Laboratory

Welcome to the mad scientist's laboratory!  As you feast your eyes on this display, keep in mind that all of this was brought in and set up just for a two day event.  The huge tube houses a home brew Jacob's Ladder.  Most impressive.

Unfortunately, there were always willing volunteers waiting in line for diagnosis and treatment.  I only got to see the act without hearing it.  In the next image, the Doctor is approaching the patient with great care lest he still harbors residual electrical energy from his first round of treatment.
Given his petulant nature, it became obvious that enhanced treatment was in order.  Be sure to click the photo below so you can read the labels.

Repeat after me:  Mwah, ha, ha.

Power Wheels Racing League

Our next stop transitions from the world of AC to the wonders of DC.  Have you ever noticed the jawas that cruise neighborhood trash piles the night before the real trash hauler comes?  The amount of useful detritus that ends up by the curb is truly sad :( 

Fortunately, it isn't just flea market, Craigslist and ebay flippers plucking good bits from the garbage!  When the right maker gets hold of one of those old battery powered kiddy cars the magic and madness of Power Wheels racing can begin!

You might guess from this pit area scene that the Power Wheels Racing League isn't about stock vehicles.  Nope, these are like the nitro burning funny cars of the kiddie car world.  Most of these have at least two deep cycle marine batteries in their customized chassis.  A day at the races includes endurance laps, drag racing and trips around the road course.

Yeah, I want to do this in the worst way.  The participants get bonus points for flair.  There are more photos from the 2011 event at

Real Cars with Electric Style

This little car got a lot of attention.  It has a hybrid drive train with pedals for the driver and passenger and a battery powered electric motor.  It is a street legal 1998 import from Europe.  While it is a daily driver, the lack of air conditioning probably causes it to be parked during heat spells like what we have been experiencing.  As I write this, it is 95 degrees at 10:00 PM after an afternoon high of 104.  Thank goodness for Tesla and Westinghouse!

This car is more for show than go.  Still, who wouldn't love to cruise around in a reproduction of the Back to the Future Delorean?
Looks like the flux capacitor is up and running.  Engage the time circuit!

Arc Attack

And now, welcome to the madness that is Arc Attack!  This band hails from Austin, Texas.  They built these two Tesla coils that crank out 12 foot, 500,000 volt streamers.  On top of that, they vary the input frequency so  the coils "sing".  The act started in 2005 and has been refined along the way.  The coils were redesigned after an unfortunate fire.  Just this year they added a robotic drummer to the crew.

I was unable to upload one of my videos, but there are plenty of samples on YouTube.  The sound may be a little garbled because these things are incredibly loud!  The microphone on my Sony NEX3 was totally overwhelmed.

The front man walks around in a chain mail Faraday suit.  It was a 100 degree day and at least ten degrees warmer inside the tent.  This form of insanity takes dedication.

Yeah, he is getting hit in the head with a streamer.  So jealous...
Part way into the performance, the band rolls out a Faraday cage and asks for volunteers from the audience.  Children must have parental permission and adults have to promise to dance like crazy people inside the cage.  Sadly, I have not been selected from the audience.  It would be a very Star  Trek experience!

Thanks for reading!  I'll do one more post to close out the series and hope you can come along for the fun!

A friendly reminder about the archaic concept of copyright:  all photos are copyright Dwayne F. at vintagetechobsessions.  Please cite the source if you liberate my images.  They are not to be used for commercial purposes with or without citation.  You could wake up with an Oliver 99 hovering over your bed.  You have been warned.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Your Career at NASA - Circa 1966

In The Birthday Blog Post From Space, I shared some images from a 1964 National Geographic magazine featuring the United States' plan for getting to the moon.  President John F. Kennedy proposed to Congress in May of 1961 that we should establish a national goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" by the end of the 1960s.

Remember in the movie Apollo 13 all of those guys in shirts and ties with their cigarettes?  Welcome to your career at NASA!
 With this audacious goal in mind, we did indeed deliver Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Sea of Tranquility on this day in 1969.  In eight short years, the United States committed its resources to the mission and creation of new technologies and infrastructure.  In the process, we gained a whole generation of engineers and scientists.  To celebrate Apollo 11 day, I'm sharing a great bit of ephemera I found at a local antique mall:  NASA:  A Guide to Careers in Aero-Space Technology" revised in July, 1966.

Our youngest daughter, the one who wants to go into engineering, was looking over my shoulder just now and commented on the first photo that it "looked like something promoting a job".  The expression on her face said "meh".   Marketing rockets and space travel is a whole lot easier than marketing math, science and engineering.

This is a page from "The Question and Answer Book of Space" copyright 1965 and 1970.  Herein witness the kind of kids' book I grew up with.

Still, with a shared vision, people can dream of working together to do something really great.

 To put this 1966 publication in perspective, our first one man capsule made a 15-minute trip above Earth's atmosphere on May 5, 1961.  The rocket with lift capacity to reach the Moon was still a concept in 1966.

Factoid of the day:  the 1961 Redstone missile delivered 78,000 pounds of thrust.  To escape Earth's gravity and make it to the Moon and back, the  first stage of the Saturn V generated 7,610,000 pounds of thrust.

Basically, it took a lot of this...

To get from the Mercury program in 1961...

At 5:14 AM on May 5, 1969, Lt. Commander Alan Shepard steps from a transport van and walks to a waiting Redstone missile.  This image is scanned from the book "LIFE Science Library; Man and Space" copyright 1964 and 1966.
To the Moon on July 20, 1969...

Image from "Album of Spaceflight" copyright 1983.
You can find more great Apollo 11 ephemera at one of my favorite blogs:

I grew up with the Apollo space program and have fond memories of watching the first lunar landing at the tender age of five and the final missions featuring the lunar buggy.  May your dreams of space be as pleasant.
P.S.  The House Full of Nerds celebrated Apollo 11 day by watching the Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth.  I'm pretty sure that Roberta Lincoln is using a computer controlled Royal Electress.  Please correct me if I missed the typewriter identification.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Maker Faire KC Part 1: Printing Technology

Is this IBM Selectric II cool, or what?  The maker grew bored with it and created a printer with the judicious use of programming, solenoids and cables.  This maker collective, the Cowtown Computer Congress, had a bunch of projects on display and this was a big attention getter. 

I assumed wrongly that the interface between the laptop and the typewriter was probably something Arduino.  Nope.  This guy etched his own circuit board!

Typewriter art, anyone?  I could watch something like this for hours. Did you notice how much the ribbon cartridge and ball head look like a robot?  Claire and I see robots everywhere.

To see this beast in action and a comprehensive build diary, visit  The Cowtown Computer Congress is one of many hacker spaces that has emerged over the last few years.  Makers share a space and major equipment with regular build nights and special events.  A hacker space is a big playground for adults.  Check around, there may be one in your town!

The Print Factory

My favorite entry in the traditional print department is the traveling crew from The Print Factory.  They are printmaking evangelists and show up at regional events with great lino and woodcuts ready to ink and press.  From experience, I can tell you this is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids.

Such pretty ink.  To see more about The Print Factory, visit

Maker Bot

Maker Faire would be pretty awesome without 3-D printers, but it wouldn't be the same.  The Maker Bot crew was out in full force introducing people to the joys of home printing.  The Maker Bot Replicator now has a dual extrusion print head... and a bunch of new competition.  Their goal was to democratize the act of making and they spawned a new industry using true open source hardware and software.  The competition is coming for around $600 as a home printer, but they may not be as dedicated to open source.

Other than the metal bits and servos, these remote control Minions came off a Maker Bot.  The drawings, like everything else in Maker Bot world, are available on the Thingiverse.

Kids love watching Maker Bots in action as much as I do.  It used to be that only elite schools and businesses had access to 3-D printing for prototyping and small run items.  Not so long ago, the technology would have set you back over $10,000.  The previous version of the Maker Bot ran around $1,400 and the new Replicator runs around $1,800. 

One of the best things about 3-D printing:  makers use them to build parts to make larger and more elaborate home brew printers.  There were at least a dozen custom machines spread out around the Faire.

On the subject of democratizing 3-D printing, a number of libraries have installed Maker Bots.  Imagine a future in which you could print any widget available on the Thingiverse or something you throw together on Google Sketchup with a library card and a few cents for materials.  Do you need a replacement knob for a Hermes?  Print on demand is cool.

Check out this set of wings produced by another member of the Cowtown Computer Congress.  The gears were custom printed on a first generation machine.

Last year, the Kansas City Maker Faire filled this hall with some outside overflow.  This year, they shut down a street in front of Union Station for the Arc Attack tent, Power Wheels, vendors, exhibitors and custom cars.  That was in addition to three extra rooms inside the station. Sweet.

Thanks for reading!  Part II will feature "Fun with Electricity".

A friendly reminder about the archaic concept of copyright:  all photos are copyright Dwayne F. at vintagetechobsessions.  Please cite the source if you liberate my images.  They are not to be used for commercial purposes with or without citation.  You could wake up with an Oliver 99 hovering over your bed.  You have been warned.