250K words written as of yesterday, 80% done. It’s now a home stretch towards wrapping up the first draft. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
Want something to hold you over before my book comes? Or just a nice gift for someone you care about? Here are my recommendations.
Janine Vangool’s The typewriter is a gorgeous coffee table book that covers typewriters with a perfect blend of photos and text. Paul Robert and Peter Weil’s similarly-titled Typewriter is a bit more nerdy, focusing on earliest typewriters with gorgeous photography and tons of interesting info.
Matthew Kirschenbaum’s Track changes is a more academic, infinitely fascinating treatise on how writers reacted to pixels replacing paper. And Thomas Mullaney’s recent The Chinese typewriter covers the intricate dance between technology and history of the device exotic to most of us.
Lastly, it is out of print, but available second-hand: Ellen Lupton’s Mechanical brides. I was enchanted by it. It might be a perfect gift for your feminist ally-in-training, as it blends great visuals with an accessible introduction to gender roles. (What’s the connection to keyboards? Grab the book to find out!)
A few other things came out recently, but they seem made for already-hardcore typewriter fans: the lively The typewriter revolution about the culture of typewriting, the somewhat soulless coffee table book Typewriters, and the California Typewriter documentary.
In time for Black Friday and holidays, I set up a store – just for you – where you can buy unique keyboard-related posters!
I used Printful and Shopify, so this is a legitimate operation. I ordered a poster for myself already, and I was happy with the quality. Right now, the prices are set so that I’m not earning anything on this. So buy something for you or someone you love – or just give me feedback! Do you like those? Do you have ideas for other products, colors, form factors…?
(Feel free to share this link, too. Sorry, the store is available in the U.S. only. Let me know if you’d like it to work elsewhere!)
Holy shit. I’m actually typing this on a 1987 computer called Canon Cat.
Canon Cat is a forgotten, amazing machine envisioned by Jef Raskin. Jef was a huge influence on me as a young designer – his book The Humane Interface talking about this machine was a fascinating mix of art, scientific rigor, and willingness to question the rules. That included the keyboard: Canon Cat has one unlike any computer before or after, with keys such as Use Front, Undo (yes!), Explain, and two Leaps located under your thumbs.
It’s an evolutionary dead end, a tantalizing “what if,” perhaps the last true typewriter. My unpublished essay about the Cat was what directly led to this book becoming a project. After so many years, I recently found a Canon Cat, restored it, and managed to connect to my Mac. This was my Holy Grail. Being able to have this machine on my desk, and type something to you… it’s thrilling. It really is.
I wish I could send one to each and every one of you.
The last month’s keyboard swapped parts around to be more friendly towards left-handed people… but forgot that the left hand looks different than the right hand.
The first 10-key keypad ever was designed for everyone, the zero extending underneath as a “numeric spacebar,” meant to be touch typed with either thumb:
But since then, keyboards evolved to have the zero shaped exclusively for the right hand. Some of them even went above and beyond to accommodate the right hand’s thumb:
The keyboard from last time tried to reach out to southpaws – but in its eagerness, it committed a common cardinal sin: it forgot to reconsider details after thinking of the big picture.
The first person to spot this was Devon Shaw! He receives a $10 gift card for the store. (There’s a store now!)
Why is this keyboard missing a 3 key?
The staff at the Living Computer Museum in Seattle, and the proprietors of Bremerton’s nearby typewriter store – they were all incredibly friendly and hospitable as I started working on the book, and their kindness gave me a wonderful early boost.
Now I’m pressing Use front and Send to transfer this all from the Cat to my Mac. This is beyond amazing. Next newsletter issue in January, filled with charts and graphs and stats. Happy holidays!