Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ghosts: Happy Photographic Accidents

My photography tends to be on the tightly constrained, control freak end of the spectrum.  However, there are times I  just to shoot to see what happens.  In this case, I was at the Chinese New Year celebration at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City.  Some small child apparently found a light switch and the lights went out in the middle of a dance performance.

The professional dance troupe continued as if they weren't performing in the dark.  And I just let the camera run on some 2.5 and 5 second handheld exposures.  Combined with random flashes from other audience members, I ended up with the ghosts seen below.

 This is the kind of happy accident that has kept me in love with photography for 25 years.  I must constantly remind myself that risk equals reward.  I am not much of a portrait photographer, but street and candid shooting is especially enjoyable as I never know what will appear in front of my watchful lens.

These photos were taken with a Sony NEX 3 combined with a 1963 vintage Olympus PEN 5 38mm f1.8 manual focus lens.  There is little chance of getting auto focus to work in the dark, so this worked out well.

More information on this combination is way back towards the beginning of this blog at
A Tale of Two Cameras

Why the NEX 3 instead of a DSLR?  There are times it is advantageous to not have a big, black camera up to my face in a crowd.  Most people don't realize that a small camera is capable of the same quality level as the DSLR and are less intimidated by its presence.  The downside is that I don't have the same quick access to exposure control (which I use constantly) or precision focus point selection.

My weapon of choice for street shooting is a Canon 60D with either the 50mm F1.4 or 85mm f1.8.  The lenses are phenomenal and I enjoy the challenge of framing images in a fixed focal length.  It keeps me aware of my surroundings.  I miss some images in not having a zoom at work, but in the long run, the image quality and the challenge are what keep me shooting.

You can find more of my people photos at
And lots more photos of people are peppered through my Fotki files.  One of my favorite sets is from the Zombie Walk for Hunger.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dear Mr. Glenn,

Thanks for your role in the beginning of America's race for the Moon.

Click Image to Enlarge

Scientific American Blog:  John Glenn: The Man Behind the Hero
Universal Newsreel:  Universal Newsreel on YouTube
NASA Mercury Archive:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Last Stand at the Remington: Starring Godzilla and a Noiseless 8. Really.

WARNING:  This blog post contains disturbing images of potential historic typewriter abuse.  The viewer is advised that no typewriters were harmed in the making of this flight of fancy.

My Noiseless 8 still requires finesse.  I find there is a fine line between over-powering the key stroke and getting a proper space advance.  It is loosening up with use and I am experimenting with Remington gun lube.  As for me, in the age before word processors, I could actually spell words like "heroes".  Sad.
So, just when you thought this blog could not get any weirder, along comes a story featuring Godzilla, a robot and a very strange vinyl toy I can pretty much guarantee you have never seen.  Before I go any further, I must give credit where credit is due:  it was a Typospherian and blog follower, teeritz, who suggested that the Remington Noiseless 8 looked like a Deco skyscraper.  I just took that concept a step further.

OK, I took it a few steps further.

The story starts with a trail of destruction that did not get captured on a digital sensor.  Well, it was, but the photographer was crushed by falling debris.  The best documentation from the scene starts with a lone robot, Commander Zogg, making a valiant last stand at the Remington Building.

The National Guard tried; they really did.  If you are at all familiar with the depredations of Godzilla in Tokyo, you have an idea of how well that worked out.  Still, the government had one secret weapon in reserve.

Pretty much any pilot worth their salt can tell you that we're all just one atomic breath weapon away from eternity.  Just like those poor Japanese pilots.  It was a nice plane.  Bummer.

Things were looking pretty grim for our hopeful hero.  A space robot can only take so much.  The radiation was getting intense and Godzilla was throwing everything he could get his scaly claws on.

Commander Zogg withstood a barrage that would have brought the great kaiju of Japan to their knees.  The roar, while painful to his auditory sensors, was manageable.  He easily absorbed blast after blast of the atomic breath by rotating the frequency of his quantum resonance shielding.

People fleeing in terror stopped long enough to look over their shoulders at the tremendous confrontation.  At least one adorable boy in a private school uniform even dared to voice hope: 

"It's Commander Zogg!  He will save us!"

But hope is a rare and tenuous commodity.  How quickly a situation can change.  And change it did when Godzilla unleashed his most powerful weapon:  the full body nuclear pulse.  Suddenly, it appeared that Zogg, the bravest robot of his time, was doomed.

As Commander Zogg's strength began to wane, he was surprised when the mighty lizard paused his orgy of destruction.  As if in a dream, a new hero appeared.  Yes, it was the mighty Astro Mu Earth! He came from Japan by way of Jupiter as soon as he detected the world wide distress signal.

Godzilla isn't known for restraint or logic.  While quasi-intelligent, he is primarily a creature of passion and instinct.  Few weapons are known to injure a monster of his stature.  However, he does remember pain.  He also remembers the Oxygen Destroyer all too well.  Having been skeletonized  once before, he eyed Astro Mu's canon with trepidation.

With a grudging snarl of admiration, the Tyrant Lizard broke off his assault and trudged through the debris of New York back to the inky depths from whence he came.

New York, or what was left of it, was safe once again.  Godzilla may return, but he will certainly face new, determined defenders.

        The End

Behind the Scenes

With the largest budget ever in the history of Vintagetechobsessions Productions, the crew created an unparallelled  alternative reality for our viewer's pleasure.

Typewriter safety is a priority at the studio.  In order to assure humane treatment, a representative from the Typewriter Protection Society (TPS) was on hand to witness filming.  An after action report was filed in accordance with the Typewriter Safety Act of 2004.

Cast and Crew:

Godzilla                         Shogun Warriors Godzilla (second version*)
Commander Zogg         Himself 
Astro Mu Earth             Reproduction Astro Mu (because the real one is unattainable)
Remington Building     The Eight Millionth Remington Typewriter

* Yes, it takes a true Nerd to know the difference.

The Outtakes

Ultraman was originally cast as one of the heroes.  A product of the studio system, he looked heroically heroic.  However, his conventional good looks did not set well with the the Executive Producer's vision.

All photos and text are copyrighted by Vintagetechobessions in association with Vintagetechobsessions Productions.  Unauthorized reproduction may result in strange toys appearing in your bedroom late at night. Yeah, they are watching...

At Vintagetechobsessions, We Make Farces Fun! (TM)

My Remington Noiseless 8 is reviewed in full and loving detail elsewhere on this blog.  As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Admiral Byrd - 1934 Paramount Newsreel Book

I started with the back cover because it is simply iconic.
Richard Byrd was hardly the first to reach the South Pole.  Perhaps he is better remembered in the U.S. because this was an American expedition.  He had already garnered respect for his prior flights. 

In addition to the gimmick of flying over the South Pole, the expedition did hard exploration. One memorable factoid from this book is that they discovered an entire mountain range.  I've become a bit spoiled by Google Earth.

Front Cover
This expedition included ships completely loaded with provisions.  This was just one of the airplanes on board.

This photo borrowed from the Wikimedia Commons better shows the full scale of the expedition.

This wasn't a high quality book to begin with and it is definitely showing its age.  This page snapped and presented an opportunity for a clean scan to show off the interesting typeface.  The tone is pretty consistent through the book with the Newsreel Men as part of the community.

This caption sounds like it came straight out of a Wes Jackson movie.  Three expedition members had taken the Fokker on a scouting mission.  While away on foot, a windstorm destroyed the plane and everything in it.  They salvaged a piece of fabric from the wing.  This makeshift flag caught the eye of Admiral Byrd's crew after three days in the Antarctic waste.  Great stuff!

This was relatively early in the wireless era.  They had an entire room dedicated as a radio laboratory and reportedly maintained contact with the outside world for the duration of the expedition.  The book even starts with an amusing story of one of the Newsreel Men wanting to make ice cream.  No problem:  the Wireless Operator simply called (or more likely Morsed) for instructions.
I'm sure the amateur radio operators can comment on this antenna design.  That's a pretty fair amount of wire.  They had terrain and apparently used HF transmission to call home.  My guess is this is an HF rig.  Note the dog team in the background.
This Ford Trimotor lives on today in the Henry Ford Museum.

On the way to the first flight over the South Pole on November 28, 1929.
Looking over this book brought back happy memories.  I grew up during the space race and aspired to becoming a pilot.  In elementary school, I even did a report on Admiral Byrd.  That was before drifting to 20:500 or so nearsightedness rained on that parade. 

Now for a bit of rumination.  Admiral Byrd was one of my heroes and learning about how planes worked taught me a lot about technology.  Today, we take trips into space for granted.  The space shuttle program is grounded, but that has not prevented the continuous habitation of the International Space Station.  Many people are concerned that the lack of an American human space program with grand ambitions keeps us from becoming inspired.

This makes me think about my kids.  The technology oriented one, Gingercat, decided on her own that she wanted a radio license.  Her heroes include Nicola Tesla and Dean Kamen.  We keep up with NASA's robotic probe programs and sent poor Spirit electronic postcards before its last long Martian winter.  Like me, she tends to draw inspiration from past and present innovations and innovators.  She is OK with robotkind doing exploration on behalf of humankind.  However, I can't honestly say she is a typical girl.

Daughter number one is about to start high school in an innovative Animal Health program created in collaboration with K-State University.  She also loves science, but is not quite as obsessive about it as her sister.

Well, this blog post meandered a ways from the original subject matter.  But I can't help thinking about the future of innovation and the current state of science and technology education and inspiration.  I work for a manufacturing company engaged in helping building designers make buildings that don't fall apart in 20 years.  Intellectual capital and the ability to "make" are important priorities for me.

What do you think?  Where does your country stand in terms of innovation?  Do we have a hero deficit and does it matter?

As always, thanks for reading.

Typecast Machine of the Day:  Stuff that was made over 80 years ago and is still going strong.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Montgomery Wards 1912 Typewriters

Front Cover Detail:  100 years ago, Kansas City was still considered to be part of the West.

Front Cover

Front Cover Detail

Back Cover:  This building is still standing and can be seen from Google Street View

Back Cover Detail:  This tells an interesting story of the expansion of the Montgomery Ward distribution system.
 Now we get to the typewriters.  I am not an expert on these early machines.  As this catalog is somewhat scarce, I wanted to at least get information out on the Typosphere.  The catalog itself is a local Flea Market find and is remarkably good condition for a 100 year old piece of literature.
One page is dedicated to typewriters and supplies.  Other writing supplies fill several additional pages.

Montgomery Ward offered ribbons in several standard colors.  Apparently, re-inking was not an uncommon practice 100 years ago.
 This catalog is huge with a vast array of products.  I will do future posts on writing and photographic supplies.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

ITAM Special Report: The Eight Millionth Remington Typewriter

Well, that was a bold teaser of a headline.  So why is this first photo so shrouded in mystery?

Simple.  My wife reminded me of the basic "Jaws" principle:  you don't bring out the shark until the third reel.  Buckle up.  This post is on a special machine and is going to be longer than the norm.

First Reel

In all honesty, I started writing this post in January.  But here we are in February just in time to celebrate the International Typewriter Appreciation Month (ITAM).  And while Remington didn't invent typewriting, they successfully took it to the mass market.  Celebrating a Remington milestone seems a good way to mark ITAM.  I have been enjoying the Typosphere ITAM posts including the latest school typing project.  Good work, everyone!

So, here sits Remington typewriter number 8,000,000.  How do I know it is the eight millionth Remington typewriter?  Hmm, I have to push that answer off until the third reel.  In the meantime, I'll share some information about the Remington Noiseless 8.

To start with, I know much more about this machine than I otherwise could have thanks to the efforts of The Classic Typewriter Page and Machines of Loving Grace.
For instance, without copies of manuals and overview diagrams, I could not have figured out how to unlock the carriage.  On top of that, I would not have known of the existence of this machine had it not been for these websites.  Thanks for empowering junkies!

The Remington Noiseless 8 is a variation on a theme.  Its companion model, the Noiseless 7, features the same mechanical system in a low slung form factor better suited to portability.  This machine is more about the experience of a larger desktop form and a thorough infusion of Art Deco design.

Courtesy of Richard Polt

Functionally, the Noiseless machines were optimized to deliver a glancing blow to the paper and platen minus the characteristic "clack" that normally accompanies this action.  I've been on the lookout for the right Noiseless 7 or 8 for months in an effort to cope with a schedule variance with my family unit.  I am an insomniac night owl who stays up far later than they.  This generally means no typecasting late at night.

That is until now.  Bwa, ha, ha!

Let's look at some design details.  The typebar mechanism is articulated and includes swinging counterweights which control the final acceleration to the platen.  The end result is freakishly quiet.  I can hear the weights swinging around inside, but can barely hear ink being put down for posterity.

Pulling the hood is a different experience.  One interesting detail is that the Noiseless 8 incorporates cast aluminum in this part of the machine.  That is good both for the complex shape and the sound deadening qualities of the material.  There isn't much to see, as much of the typebar assembly is hidden from view.

This is one of the sound suppressor bars on the inside of a sheet metal panel.

The primary steel shell and back cover feature robust sound deadening inside that would not look out of place in the door panels of a luxury car.  Instead of more typical felt, each large panel has bars glued into place that reduce resonance sound attenuation.  The sheet metal stops acting like a speaker as sound is tamped out and dies.

Aluminum is common enough today that we would be unlikely to see supplier information.  In 1933, aluminum was a big deal.  The underside of the cast top cover features this ALCOA aluminum logo.

This is the underbelly of the typebar pivot assembly.
The patent drawing helps us get a grasp on the mechanism.  It is an intricate design that appears to have more moving parts than the average typewriter.  Richard Polt reports that the original price was $105.  I plugged that into an inflation calculator and came up with a 2012 equivalent of just over $1,800.  These machines were serious investments.

This would not be my blog without an overload of macro photography.  The aesthetic details on this typewriter are really interesting.  The finish on every part is superb with thick chrome and outstanding machining.  The black paint is about as close to pure black as I have seen.  It sucks up light like a stealth fighter.  There is a downside in that every speck of dust shows.

As for the plastic keys, I went to an expert for advice.  Richard Polt states that the Noiseless 7 was known to have utilized plastic keys starting in 1931.  In all likelihood, this 1933 machine came equipped with the keys as shown.  Especially given its history, the plastic keys shall remain unmolested no matter how sexy the chrome and glass keys are!

I'm a sucker for raised paper table logos.

The Art Deco theme carries through to the smallest detail.  This is a knob for a ribbon cover.  It is totally functional as well as decorative and makes winding new ribbon a fairly painless process.

Others have commented on the precision alignment of the type slugs.  Much engineering and quality control went into this mechanism.

Second Reel
Welcome to the second reel.  At this point we arrive at a bit of a mystery regarding provenance and history.

You may find this hard to believe, but I bought this machine on ebay.  Really.  I'm still surprised.  The bidding wasn't even that heated because the seller created a somewhat odd description.  As it turns out, I outbid one of the Godfathers of typewriter collecting.  I'll let him comment on the subject if he so chooses.

So here is the problem:  I cannot definitively state its provenance.  However, I can present the available dots that provide a fairly solid, if not entirely provable, back story.

The seller is in New York City and stated that the presentation plaque (mounted in front of the spacebar) had been removed prior to sale and showed that the recipient was the YMCA Typing Club.  The case contained a couple of clues as to where it might have lived for these many years. 

Item 1:   A Remington publication entitled A Brief History of the Typewriter was included in the case.  It talks of one potential New York connection; that being the YMCA Ballard School program that pioneered typing instruction.  This turned out to be a frustrating connection as I could find almost no information on the Ballard School, or even the history of the New York YMCA, online.

Fortunately, I have a random collection of ephemera including a Good Housekeeping magazine from 1939 (highly recommended - the ads are hilarious!).  It included an advertising section for summer camps that established the location of the Ballard School of the Y.M.C.A. as being at 610 Lexington Avenue in New York City.

Parenting is much easier when you can ship the little ones off to camp!  From the April, 1939 Good Housekeeping.

Item 2:  Inside the case, there was a decal for plaza typewriter Exchange Co. at 120 East 59th St. in New York City.

Decal on the inside of the case.
 An online map search verified that the two locations are six short blocks apart. Street view shows a vacant lot at 610 Lexington Ave.  An additional search turned up the sorry saga of the Shangri-La Hotel high rise that was to be built on that spot.  That story begins in 2005 with the purchase of the YMCA property and demolition in 2007-2008.  The project failed due to financing issues caused by the collapse of Lehman Brothers.  Photos of the original building and the smoking crater are at

Side note:  Honestly, nerd-o-riffic research was so limited in the era before the World Wide Web.  On the other hand, car engines were less complicated and I could actually rebuild them back then.  Just sayin'.

Interestingly enough, the building had some restoration work prior to it going on the block.  I hope that my employer's masonry cleaners were used in the process.

Again, I cannot without a doubt state where this typewriter came from.  However, if I were in the Remington marketing department, it would seem advantageous for a company milestone to be housed at a location significant to the company history.  The Ballard School site is conveniently close to a typewriter retailer of record and it would have had reason to be liquidated in the last five years.

So there are the dots.  How comfortable do you Typosphereans feel with these connections?

Third Reel

And now we have finally arrived at the third reel and can take a closer look at our mysterious friend.  I promised proof of the milestone eight millionth typewriter status, and proof you shall have.

You will just have to pretend that this is as dramatic as a Great White shark jumping onto a boat. For once, I don't need to depend on the Typewriter Serial Number Database to know when this machine was made.

This plaque is a remnant of an era when things were made by hand.  Very satisfying.

Seeing double because I like the color balance of the first photo better.  It's my blog and I'll do what I want to ;)
This is the one vintage machine I own that has an absolutely clear birth date.  We'll add it to the family birthday celebration list.  An art deco layer cake could be a great project for the girls!

Insert drum roll...

And now for the serial number...

This is the only serial number on the chassis.  Can you believe the whole typewriter shell had been lovingly hand washed and waxed not 12 hours before this photo was taken?  This is my Deco Dust Magnet.
I uploaded the entire photo set, outtakes included, to my Fotki site at

A Brief Word on Manufacturing History

I happened across a record of the Remington-Noiseless manufacturing facility in Middletown, Connecticut where the Noiseless machines were built.  This has more information than you would possibly want to know.

Remington Noiseless Typewriter Company, ca. 1924-1928  Source linked above.
Presumably, this was the site for manufacturing portables and office machines.  This plant originally produced bicycles and later horseless carriages.  The Noiseless Typewriter Company was organized in 1909 and began production at this site in November of that year.  Production continued here after the formation of the Remington-Noiseless Typewriter Corporation in 1922.  The facility was in continuous operation until 1937 when it was closed for several years after the result of labor unrest.

This latter detail is interesting in the context of labor issues involved in the production of modern communications technology.  Recently, Apple has received criticism for outsourcing production overseas and utilizing a manufacturing partner with a mixed record of employment practices.  There have been fatalities and employees are known to work double shifts to get our wonderful devices out the door.

Labor unrest and management reactions took a different form in the early 1900s.  This Remington factory reportedly used inexpensive immigrant labor.  In 1936, 1,200 workers went on strike.  Much like the famed Ford factory labor dispute, this action triggered a wave of violence that ultimately resulted in the National Guard being called in to restore order.  James Rand was indicted under the Byrnes Act and was acquitted in 1937.

This is one of those deals where I was not particularly pleased to learn about history.  Does my machine have blood on its keys?  The truth is, most of us would be surprised about the labor and materials that go into the tools of our industrial culture.  After thinking this through, I came to the following conclusion:  Regardless of the human sweat and toil that went into making this Noiseless typewriter, the fact that it has been preserved and will be well used is a manifestation of respect for the people who made it.

The Hong Kong Action Movie Ending

 I feel very fortunate to have this typewriter in my possession.  It is both functional and unique.  I recently blogged on a unique chrome and faux wood Royal Portable.  I have some interesting and hard to find typefaces in my stable as well.  So, what are the chances of topping this find?  Slim to none.  And that is OK.  The acquisition phase inevitably winds down.

I can now focus on getting the rhythm of this machine down as it will be my night typing companion for years to come.  Tips and tricks on lubing and tuning this beast are, as always, appreciated.

Thanks for reading, and a Happy ITAM to all!