September 10, 2012
In the typewriter room
Which leads me directly to the Typewriter Room at the New Main San Francisco Public Library (below),
the subject of a wonderful May 30, 2012 New York Times article (below) by Greg Beato.
Amid the civil hush of the New Main San Francisco Public Library, I recently experienced an aspect to writing I'd all but forgotten: noise. It happened in a workspace called the Typewriter Room. Operating the machine that gives the room its name, I struck the "T" key, then the "H" key, and for the first time in at least two decades, I was rewarded with the bracing clackety-clack of analog-era content production.
When the New Main opened in 1996, its boosters touted it as a "high-tech information retrieval center." So did its critics. It had 300 computer workstations, additional electrical outlets for patrons who brought their own laptops, a sleek and airy layout with sightlines that made it the envy of every high-security prison warden in the land, and apparently, hidden in some low-tech, off-message nook, a Typewriter Room.
When I stumbled across a Web site mention of it a few months ago, I immediately envisioned an enclave where Mark Twain would feel at home. You know, dark-paneled walls, period carpeting, maybe a large, stuffed bird in the corner.
And of course a boxy, aggressively unergonomic typewriter, with a surfeit of levers, spools, guides, knobs, releases, gauges, clamps and keys.
Naturally, the Typewriter Room is nothing like that. It's a cubicle-size room with glass walls that expose it to the rest of the library. It has a utilitarian, built-in desk. And while a small sign advises that the space is "designed for a maximum of two people to use comfortably," that’s an optimistic assessment given the room's single wooden chair.
The Typewriter Room's typewriter is similarly bereft of romance. It is electronic, a TA Adler-Royal Satellite 40, with the beige plastic contouring of a fax machine from 1987 and a 700-character memory that allows you to go back and correct typos you made three sentences earlier. And yet despite its utter lack of charming Luddite clunkiness, it's just ancient enough to deliver a completely different experience than one has when typing on today’s increasingly vestigial computer keyboards.
The metallic clatter the Satellite 40’s daisy wheel makes when it strikes the platen definitely seems too loud for a library, and even too loud for a high-tech informational retrieval center, but it sure is satisfying. If your thoughts come slowly but steadily, the Satellite 40 lends a sense of craftsmanship to your work, as if you're building arguments as sturdy and elegant as a redwood deck. If inspiration strikes and your thoughts come more quickly, the Satellite 40 explodes with the sound of your mental fireworks.
You can't just tickle the Satellite 40’s keys either. You have to give them a solid poke, and between this extra effort and the noise, an activity that has devolved into mostly a cerebral effort in recent years suddenly becomes tactile again, and this tactility in turn inspires a kind of mental momentum. You hear yourself being productive. You feel yourself being productive. Adrenalin kicks in, you get into a groove, thoughts come easily, gracefully, forcefully. Imagine dozens of reporters sharing the same space, all of them aware of one another’s output, all of them eager to make some noise of their own — the newsrooms of old must have sounded like battlefields.
According to Cathy Nyhan, fifth-floor manager at the New Main, San Francisco’s old Main library had a typewriter room too, a bigger one, filled with "tons of typewriters." When the institution moved into its new high-tech home, it wanted to preserve that functionality, albeit on a more limited scale. Hence, the Typewriter Room and what is, at least within the realm of the New Main and the city's 27 branch libraries, the last public typewriter.
The typewriter in the Typewriter Room is kept under lock and key. It's available on a first-come, first-serve basis, no reservations accepted. If you want access to it, you fill out a form and a staff member opens the room for you. The library does not provide paper. Not so long ago, Ms. Nyhan tells me, as many as 10 people a day used the Typewriter Room, but now it's down to around two a day. They’re people who need to fill out forms, or people who never took to computers.
As long as such users exist, so will the Typewriter Room. "As a public library, we take our mission to serve the public seriously," Ms. Nyhan says. If technical problems develop, there are backup typewriters in a nearby storage room and a repairman on call, 65-year-old Rene Salinas of Rene Business Machines, who has been servicing the library's typewriters for more than two decades. "They used to have 50 machines," Mr. Salinas says. "Now, it's like six or seven."
The repairmen are dwindling, too. "I'm the only guy now," Mr. Salinas says. "The young guys, they don't know machines like that."
And so, really, how long can the Typewriter Room last? Sooner or later, Mr. Salinas will retire. Sooner or later, the sources for replacement parts will all dry up. Sooner or later, when we're wearing Google glasses and using our brain waves to type, the library is going to need space for the Computer Room.
Maarten Baas Clay Chairs
It's a veritable Baas festival around here these past two days, what with yesterday's Smoke Armchair and today's exemplar, made from industrial clay hand-modeled on top of Baas's metal "skeletons," then painted with colored lacquer.
Baas's dining chairs (above) cost $2,900 apiece.
Historypin.com — "Build a better time machine"
Below, excerpts from Peter Wayner's September 5, 2012 New York Times story about the rise of websites which marry technology and history.
Caption for the photo above, which accompanied the Times article: "Jon Voss posed for a photo at the Jefferson Memorial last year, right, recreating a photo of his father, Joe, from decades earlier. He shared it on the site historypin.com."
Jon Voss went to Washington last year with a very specific plan: to pose for a photo at the Jefferson Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background.
He wanted that particular photo because his father, Joe, was photographed in that spot while living in Washington between 1948 and 1952.
The younger Voss wanted to recreate the photo right down to standing on the same block of marble.
Mr. Voss had a good reason for his meticulous recreation. Once he got the shot, he shared it with the world on Historypin.com, a Web site with ambitions to create a large collection of historical photos cataloged by location and date.
The two photos are now part of the Web site's collection of photos taken at the Jefferson Memorial. If a viewer clicks on one, a slider allows that person to transition between the photos of the younger and older Vosses, blurring the two moments in time.
"That’s what I set out to do with this project: build a better time machine," Mr. Voss said.
As more digital cameras — and smartphone apps as well — automatically attach location and date information to photographs, our ability to organize the photos in revealing new ways is being expanded. It is a new concept for many sites with archives of old photos, but it is beginning to catch on.
Many smartphones, equipped with GPS chips, now include location information in the metadata of the photographs taken by the phone’s camera. These include the latitude and longitude in a set of attached numbers called the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) values. It also contains the make and model of the camera, the shutter speed and the aperture.
Regular digital cameras with SD memory card slots can also add location information automatically if the photographer uses an Eye-Fi card. By triangulating known Wi-Fi hot spots in the vicinity of where the picture was taken, the card records an approximate location with the photo. The Eye-Fi card works well in dense urban environments where there are many Wi-Fi hot spots.
A number of photo-sharing sites are being transformed from places to look at pictures into tools to connect historical documents and give more people a sense of history.
Historypin.com is clearly one of the most ambitious of these sites. It is aggressively courting local historical societies to encourage them to upload their archives to the site. Already, several hundred institutions have used the site's bulk uploading tools to add thousands of photographs.
The public is also encouraged to upload photos and add any narratives that go along with the pictures. The site offers a unique tool that helps align the historical image with the current picture of the location available from Google Maps’ Street View. This provides a current image for comparison in many cities.
Woman groped in shower — by her soap!
Who's responsible for this outrage?
And where can I get some of that soap — 'cause I want to buy about 20 bars and send one to everyone I know.
Duckie Sink Plug
From the website:
Even after the use of strong household cleaning products, the stopper keeps its form and amazing colors.
1.6" L x 1.6" W x 2.8" H x 1.6" Ø.
Chrome and plastic.
Made in Germany.
Second portrait of Emily Dickinson unearthed?
Below, exceprts from Dave Itzkoff's September 5, 2012 New York Times "ArtsBeat" story about the discovery.
In her own words, Emily Dickinson said she was "small, like the wren; and my hair is bold, like the chestnut burr; and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves." But what did that celebrated Massachusetts poet, who died in 1886... actually look like? Until now only one authenticated portrait of Dickinson as an adult, [an 1847] daguerreotype showing her sitting upright in a chair, was known to exist. But as The Guardian reports, a second image of Dickinson [above], with a smile on her face and a friend by her side, may have been confirmed.
The Amherst College Archives and Special Collections is now displaying a second daguerreotype that it says depicts Dickinson and her friend Kate Scott Turner, probably taken around 1859 on a visit to Amherst. The picture, purchased in 1995 by a collector who presented it to the college in 2007, was shown during an August conference of the Emily Dickinson International Society. The college says various tests, including the cross-referencing of fabrics seen in the photo and found in the textile collection of the Emily Dickinson Museum... probably prove the image's authenticity. Forestalling any skeptics who might say that the dress worn by Dickinson in the picture is out of date by 1850s standards, Amherst cites a letter she wrote to Abiah Root in 1854: "I'm so old fashioned, Darling, that all your friends would stare."
Super-Wide Smoothie Straws — What's not to like?
I wanted straws that would reach to the bottom of these really large drinking glasses I have so I told my Crack Research Team®™© to find some.
Took 'em a while but here we are.
Bag of 35 super-wide (1/2-inch diameter) 9-inch long assorted color fluorescent straws: $12.95.
Sure, you could bag a few free each time you go to 7-Eleven but that gets old quickly.