Z for short.

"To write more, write more." This is my writing notepad.

Typewriters, the predecessors of computer keyboards

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Text: Solveig Hansen

“To be expert in typewriting means to be able to write without error, and at the same time rapidly and with evenness of touch, any kind of business document.” (Remington handbook, 1890)

I have a thing for old black-and-white movies in which journalists bang away at their Underwoods, hat pushed back on their head, a cigarette in the corner of their mouth. I like the clack-clack-clack of typewriters and then the “ding” at the end of the line.

Although retro today, typewriters were once state-of-the-art machines. That is a simple fact I was reminded of when I stumbled upon Lovisa Ellen Bullard Barnes’ book How to Become Expert in Typewriting. A Complete Instructor Designed Especially for the Remington Typewriter (1890), described below.

USB typewriter

USB typewriter

Typewriters are still being used. Why? BBC.com lists five reasons why, ranging from refuseniks to cool to lack of electricity to aesthetics to wedding invitations. There are still companies servicing typewriters, and you can still buy ribbons.

If you want to go retro without giving up the comfort of new technology, convert your typewriter into a computer keyboard or iPad dock using Jack Zylkin’s USB Typewriter Conversion Kit.

Or, get a typewriter app like Tom Hanks’ Hanx Writer.

Great links if you want the real thing:
Buying a Typewriter: What You Need to Know
Portable Typewriters: A virtual museum of typewriters

Remington manual

A complete Remington manual from 1890
Lovisa Ellen Bullard Barnes’ book How to Become Expert in Typewriting. A Complete Instructor Designed Especially for the Remington Typewriter has been digitalized. It is an interesting read, written by one who knew her craft and shared her knowledge, to heighten the skills of professional typists. Today, 100+ years later, we are reminded of how things were then, and of differences and similarities.

Recognizing the need for trained typists, Barnes not only explains the components of the typewriter and how to maintain it, but she also gives typing lessons and business letter examples and explains the rules of punctuation. The typing lessons include well known pangrams like “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.” (See the post on Ella Minnow Pea for more on pangrams.)

In the Preface, Barnes writes:

The typewriter is so ingenious and simple in its construction that the average person can learn to write words on it in ten minutes’ time. Hence the long popular belief that no special instruction is needed, but that a few days’ practice alone will enable one to become a competent and valuable operator. This fallacy has brought disappointment and failure to many a bread-winner, has been the cause of untold annoyance to employers, and has forced capable and conscientious teachers to let their students go out unprepared because public opinion refused the time and expense necessary to learn properly the art of typewriting. As a natural result, business men are now complaining bitterly of the incompetency of applicants, even when they are the product of so-called business schools.

Like in any other line of work, to become a good business correspondent, training is required:

To be expert in typewriting means to be able to write without error, and at the same time rapidly and with evenness of touch, any kind of business document. It means to know how to care for the machine, to understand its workings, to be able to write on paper narrow or wide, ruled or unruled, on envelopes and postal cards, to manifold distinctly, to typewrite from dictation, to take manuscript that is badly written and poorly punctuated and to transform it into a correctly spelled and punctuated and business-like document, […] so that they shall be correct in form and artistic in appearance, rivaling printing in accuracy, and a work of art in perfection of detail.

Touch typing is key:

To learn to write by touch, that is, with only an occasional glance at the key-board, sit directly in front of the machine. Keep the hands as nearly as possible in one position over the key-board. When striking the space key with one hand, keep the location of the keys with the other. Write very slowly at first, and after every two or three words glance at the fingers to see if they are on the right keys. As you continue to practice, look less and less at the key-board, only often enough to make sure that you are writing accurately. When you can write the whole exercise without once looking at the fingers, then begin to increase your speed, but very gradually, that you may not fall into error.

Observe the end of line bell:

The bell rings to warn the writer that he is approaching the end of the line. Seven letters can be written after the bell rings. This gives time to finish a word, or to properly divide it, writing the whole of a syllable at the end of the line, placing a hyphen after it, and writing the remainder of the word on the next line. Beginners are apt to pay too little attention to the bell. They continue writing until the carriage ceases to move, and until they have printed several letters one over another.

Remember to change the ribbon:

Beginners sometimes fail to notice that they have reached the end of the ribbon until they have made a hole in it by the type constantly striking the same spot, or until the ribbon is so tight that the machine refuses to work ; then they wonder what is the matter with their typewriter.

Embellishing ornaments:

Fancy borders are appropriate in many kinds of miscellaneous work. It adds greatly to their appearance to print them in different colors.

Remington manual

Embellishing ornaments


Bad spelling is always inexcusable. It has cost many a typewriter operator his position, and rightly too. In these days of cheap books no one has a right to remain ignorant, and bad spelling from carelessness is a thousand times worse than bad spelling from ignorance, a thousand times more provoking and inexcusable.

On the more curious side is the section on how to succeed in the workplace. It is about being hard-working and quick to learn (“Do everything a little better than you are expected to. Be cheerful and obliging when asked to do work outside of your line.”), avoiding unnecessary conversation (“Young ladies especially should understand this, and should cultivate that modest dignity which is so becoming in a woman wherever she goes.”), dressing properly (“plainly but attractively”), and keeping “not only your hands and face and teeth, but your whole person, scrupulously clean.”

Read it. It gives a glimpse into the early days of typewriting.

Written by Solveig Hansen

September 7, 2015 at 8:18 pm

Posted in Writing

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Help desk medieval style

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Sometimes, when you move from one system to another, let’s say from scrolls to books, you need assistance from help desk. This is an old classic:

Written by Solveig Hansen

September 7, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Videos

Woody Allen’s 1965 precursor to Midnight in Paris

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“And then Hemingway punched me in the mouth.”

In Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris (2011), struggling screenwriter Gil Pender travels back in time on his midnight walks. In the Paris of the 1920’s, he meets and hangs out with people like Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein.

In 1965, Woody Allen was a stand-up comedian, bespectacled and nerdlike like always. In one of his shows, he tells about his encounters with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Stein.

This is brilliant and goes to show that good ideas die hard:

Written by Solveig Hansen

September 5, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Films

Tagged with ,

Pat Ingoldsby, street poet of Dublin

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Text: Solveig Hansen

“Is she paralyzed from the waist up? No… she does Irish dancing.”

Pat Ingoldsby’s (born in 1942) poems span from the quirky and queer to the rough reality of street life. He used to host children’s TV shows, write plays, publish short stories, and work as a newspaper columnist. In the mid-nineties, he withdrew from the mass media to write poetry, which he sells on the streets of Dublin. Look for him on Westmoreland Street.

I first heard about him while on assignment in Dublin a couple of years ago. Before leaving, I dropped by a book store and asked for a contemporary Irish poet. The young girl behind the counter hesitated for a second, and then she said, “Pat Ingoldsby.”

Mr. Ingoldsby has found his own characteristic and humoristic style for which his readers love him. He draws inspiration from overhearing people talk on buses, from people he observes and talks to while selling books, and from things they say to him (“Keep an eye on the bike will you”).

He takes something ordinary and makes it slightly surreal. I have heard the Irish describe Irish dancing, but not like this: “Is she paralyzed from the waist up? No… she does Irish dancing.” Another typical word-picture is:

The bicycle knelt forward
and prayed
because its front wheel
was gone

The classic Vagina in the Vatican is a comment to certain aspects of the Catholic Church and depicts a vagina sneaking into the Vatican. Nobody stopped it because no one knew what is was – except for a few, who pretended they did not know. Then the vagina had tea with the cardinals.

Among the more somber poems is Last Supper, in which a homeless man makes a picture of the Last Supper from the white bird droppings on the pavement. He then wanders into the picture and eats the bread and drinks the wine and falls asleep with his arms stretched out, like a cross.

One favorite of mine is Part of the reason why Lord Livingston Cotchineal left his wife and went to live in an enclosed order – the publisher kindly gave me the permission to publish it.

Vagina in the Vatican is from How was it for you Doctor (1994). The other poems are from If you don’t tell anybody I won’t (1996).


Written by Solveig Hansen

August 25, 2015 at 10:51 am

Posted in Poetry, Writing

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Ella Minnow Pea and Five Dozen Liquor Jugs

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Text: Solveig Hansen

When letters in a pangram start falling off a memorial plaque, the letters are banned, with harsh punishments for those who use the forbidden characters. This is the plot in Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Written in 2001, the story is a commentary on issues like censorship and freedom of speech. It is also a fable for lovers of words.

First, some facts and history: A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of a given alphabet, at least once. A perfect pangram uses each letter only once. The opposite of a pangram is called a lipogram, in which one or more letters are omitted. Today, pangrams are typically used to display samples of typefaces on computer screens.

The best known English pangram is The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, first used at the end of the 19th century as writing practice. Later, it was used to test typewriters and teleprintes.

Another 19th century pangram is Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs, made well known by Mark Dunn in his novel Ella Minnow Pea, in which the search for a shorter pangram is part of the plot.

Ella Minnow PeaElla Minnow Pea
In the novel, the pangram The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog is credited to Nevin Nollop, a fictitious inhabitant of the equally fictitious island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina. The pangram is written on tiles on his memorial statue. When the letter tiles start falling off, the island’s high council bans the use of the fallen letters from all communication, written and spoken, and enforces a penalty system for using them. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on neighbors and report violations to the council.

The story is conveyed through mails and notes sent between various characters, and as the alphabet diminishes, the letters disappear from the novel. When the first letter, z, falls off, the heroine of the novel, Ella Minnow Pea, explains:

“To speak or write any word containing the letter Z, or to be found in possession of any written communication containing this letter, one will receive for a first offense a public oral reprimand… Second offenders will be offered choice between the corporal pain of body-flogging and the public humiliation of headstock upon the public square. For third offense, violators will be banished from the island. Refusal to leave upon order of Council will result in death.”

Then the letter q falls off and is outlawed. Ella writes:

“As luck would have it, there are simply not all that many words in the English language which claim this letter among its constituents.”

However, even the removal of the two least-used letters has its repercussions: the loss of radio and newspaper and recordings of music with lyrics.

When d falls, the days of the weeks are renamed:


In the end, only five letters remain, LMNOP (= Ella Minnow Pea, get it?). “Now onlee 5 remain at 12 o’time. Onlee 5. Onlee 5 remain,” Ella writes to herself in her penultimate letter.

The solution to restore their language and topple Nollop from his godlike stature, is to find a pangram of 32 letters, in contrast to Nollop’s 35. Ella saves the day by discovering this phrase in one of her father’s letters: Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. The islanders are then again free to use all the 26 letters.

Listen: Audio interview with Mark Dunn on ttbook.org

Written by Solveig Hansen

August 22, 2015 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Books, Writing

Tagged with

First Flight by Bobby Warner

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Originally posted on Friday Flash Fiction:

Folks called her Old Witch, and she was Timmy’s friend. He went to see her one day and she took him to a meadow.

“Would you like to fly?” she asked.

“Sure!” said Timmy.

“Then close your eyes and take off!”

He closed his eyes, she touched his forehead, and he seemed to grow light as a feather. In his mind’s eye he could see the meadow drop away, and the clouds grow near.

“Did I really fly?” he asked when he opened his eyes.

“Who’s to say?” she answered. “My eyes were shut, too. But I’m sure you did.”

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Written by Solveig Hansen

August 21, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Blessed are the Artists

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Written by Solveig Hansen

August 16, 2015 at 10:33 pm

Posted in Artists


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