The quikk bronw foxjumps over teh laz ydog
August 2, 2015 5:38 AM   Subscribe

It started because I was trying to tell my kids about how typewriters worked (because of course they've never seen one), and all the existing typewriter simulators that I could find on the web get one very basic thing wrong - when you press backspace, they erase the character you just typed, like a computer. On a real typewriter, backspace simply moves the carriage back one space, allowing you to overtype a previously typed character. Erasing requires Tipp-Ex or suchlike.
posted by jenkinsEar (36 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was on the fence about this until this point:
Improvements I'd like to make

If you type too fast or try to type two keys at once, the mechanism should jam. Amazingly, this is the most commonly requested feature from the beta testers of this program. The only reason I haven't implemented it is the problem of designing a UI to represent unjamming it by picking the mechanism apart, and how to make your fingers inky and oily when you do it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:43 AM on August 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


That's exactly what I was going to request
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:43 AM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


it also has a digit "1" (that's not "l"). i like the ding when you get to the end of the line though. but the sound for up and down cursors is wrong (shouldn't it be the clicky noise you get when you turn the cylinder thing?). or maybe this is some modern fancy electronic typewriter?
posted by andrewcooke at 5:57 AM on August 2, 2015


My favorite feature: You can darken a letter by overtyping it a few times.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:09 AM on August 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Heh. That's pretty fun.

FWIW, back in the classic Mac days, there was a system extension you could install that gave you typewriter sounds when you typed anything. It was fun. For a little while.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:12 AM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I played with this for a while, thinking it would be fun to make letters for a game of De Profundis with it. I really enjoy the way typewritten text looks but it's a very awkward interface for anything more than a paragraph or two, and unlike an actual typewriter you don't have permanence to what you write unless you export to PDF. I'd really like something where you could take text and have it "typewritten" after the fact, with the kind of line shifting and unevenness that you get from this site without having to manually type it in that interface.
posted by graymouser at 6:14 AM on August 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I learned to type on a 1927 Royal Portable* and this is neat but it doesn't capture the physicality of jamming your fingers down as hard as you can to type a character, slamming the carriage to the left with your right hand or the intense pain of trying to hold up the whole carriage with your pinky finger to type a capital letter.

* My mother was terrified by electric typewriters and scared that she'd be electrocuted if she spilled her coffee into one. She finally bought one in the late eighties just as they were becoming obsolete.
posted by octothorpe at 6:59 AM on August 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Thanks for the post. It reminds me of own typewriter, inherited from a relative. I used it in high school to type short stories. I hadn't thought of that typewriter or those short stories probably in about 25 years.

It reminds me as well of how much energy I had back then, just cranking out words on a typewriter.
posted by Nevin at 7:15 AM on August 2, 2015


I learned to type on a very poorly maintained underwood typewriter from the 20s. I did not take to it very well.
posted by Ferreous at 7:16 AM on August 2, 2015


octothorpe -- I have 4 of those Royal Portables, in different colors. I love them.
posted by JanetLand at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is cool, but I hate the experience of not having a backspace. Good riddance to typewriters.
posted by codacorolla at 8:01 AM on August 2, 2015


I just imagined typing a 300 page dissertation on this and got a cold shiver down my spine.
posted by codacorolla at 8:02 AM on August 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


it also has a digit "1" (that's not "l")

A few typewriters had them. I google searched mine (I think it's a Olympia SM-9 De Luxe my mother rescued from the trash pile at her office 20 years ago) and while some don't have a 1, others do. I think mine, being an HCESAR layout, uses O-backspace-/ and l for 0 and 1.

If I had to guess, it was up to the client to choose the variant, depending on use. full numbers for warehouse/financial work, replacement for typing letters, articles or books.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:49 AM on August 2, 2015


codacorolla: "I just imagined typing a 300 page dissertation on this and got a cold shiver down my spine."

It wasn't uncommon to write papers out long-hand and pay someone to type it up for you. It was a pretty standard way for female college students to make extra money taking in typing work.
posted by octothorpe at 9:10 AM on August 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've seen a professor's papers that had all of his handwritten lecture notes and even emails hand written for his TA to type and send for him.
posted by sperose at 9:21 AM on August 2, 2015


This really reminds me of a cartoon bit in an old Mad Magazine about some new electric typewriter that corrected your mistakes as you typed. The character, some GI or something, was complaining that the newfangled typewriter made letters from home seem all sterile and impersonal, and it showed him at the end reading a letter that looked like it was produced by this simulator, with the brokenness set really high, and he was weeping at the sentimentality of it.
posted by Dr. Send at 9:22 AM on August 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I also learned to type on an ancient Royal portable. I recall there not being an exclamation point key - you had to type a period and then backspace and type an apostrophe to make one.
posted by queensissy at 9:40 AM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you typed too hard on the mechanical units that typing an "o" would cut out a hole in the paper.

I was hoping back in the 80' that a comic like the "Tick" would have a hyper grammarian super villain called "Hammerball" that would shoot you with THESE and leave a distinctive dent with inked type. Of course only after lecturing you you about the proper use of commas.
posted by boilermonster at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I guess you would also have white-out that you could put over mistakes, right? Although having to lift up the carriage, apply white-out, wait until it's dry, reset the carriage, and then start over seems super tedious.

On the other hand, writing would be more of a skill, and take a lot more 'gear' than the current single person, single laptop model. Whenever I go to thrift stores I love perusing old reference collection stuff (like a series of TIME yearbooks from the 70s with stuff like inflation indexes and gas prices in the back). I sometimes imagine having a cozy desk with a full shelf of dictionaries, thesauruses, quick reference guides, notebooks, typewriter paraphernalia, etc. I guess all of that stuff SEEMS cool, but it's also super expensive, and far less instant than typing something into Google. Despite the imagined nostalgia I think I'll still take my laptop and an Internet connection.
posted by codacorolla at 10:49 AM on August 2, 2015


I never realized how much I depend on being able to press the next key before the previous key has been released. I thought at first that the simulator was just randomly causing keys to not work until I realized that you can't overlap presses at all. I suppose that's true to the behavior of a full mechanical model, but I seem to recall being able to do it with electric models.

Just for fun it would be cool if it simulated having loaded the paper in a hurry and giving it little bit of a skew angle so that the margins aren't consistent.

Also, I have a lot more respect for people who drew pictures with a typewriter since it's very easy to fuck up with one wrong move.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:23 AM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Our emergency response team kits are a series of suitcase-sized pelican boxes that are pre-packed for certain types of emergency, plus shipping containers to follow. I maintain the one that goes on boats if a waterborne response is necessary. Someone just the other week was checking theirs out, and now I can't quite remember who or where, but they held up a small-ish box and showed me the label with an eye-roll: manual typewriter.

'Cause we might need that in the first few hours of a radiological emergency? You never know, I guess. Most of the oddball things are there because at some point during a drill someone wanted it and didn't have it. The thing that surprises me about that isn't that it exists, but that there's not also a qualification requirement with a periodic proficiency test for us to use the damn thing.
posted by ctmf at 11:36 AM on August 2, 2015


I wonder if there are young people now who think we went from those very old completely manual typewriters to computers, with nothing in between. When I used a typewriter we had "erasure paper/ribbon" so you did not have to manually apply tipp-ex and wait until it's dry. There were also places that had more fancy electronic typewriters that let you go back for one or two words and correct them. There were "real typewriters" where backspace works just as you would expect (as long as you only needed to correct a few characters).
posted by blub at 11:45 AM on August 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


My father was a typewriter inventor. In the 70s a big company wanted to jump ahead in the market and had him form a top secret crack team of engineers on the outside. They were pitted against the internal group working on the same project, and others like them in a race to invent the electronic typewriter (his team won). So we had plenty of manual typewriters (I have one in my living room that my friends' kids are confused by) but my memories are more of the electronic variety. You still got the feel of typing on a typewriter without the mess. You could even change fonts!
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:51 AM on August 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


@codacorolla - whiteout was on a sheet of paper (something like a white version of the sheets you use to make multiple copies). so you backspaced, inserted the sheet between ribbon and paper, typed the same letter (printing the whiteout), then backspaced again (while removing the whiteout sheet) and then typed the correct letter.
posted by andrewcooke at 11:57 AM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


It wasn't uncommon to write papers out long-hand and pay someone to type it up for you ask your 10-year-old to type them in WordPerfect

I corrected the above to match my own experience growing up
posted by en forme de poire at 12:14 PM on August 2, 2015


Ok, I'll allow for separate "1" and "l" characters. I've definitely used typewriters like that. But what kind of fancy-ass, deluxe typewriter is going to have all of curly braces, square brackets, tilde, back-tick, vertical pipe, and backslash? And no cents sign?
posted by mhum at 12:53 PM on August 2, 2015


No ยข ? That's not a typewriter.
posted by svenx at 1:39 PM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I guess you would also have white-out that you could put over mistakes, right? Although having to lift up the carriage, apply white-out, wait until it's dry, reset the carriage, and then start over seems super tedious.

Oh, it was. The white-out took forever to dry, and if you didn't get the paper and carriage back in the exact spot where you left off, the spacing was thrown completely off.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:04 PM on August 2, 2015


Yeah, when I was a kid my typewriter lacked both a "1" and a "!" -- as queensissy says, you had to combine a period and an apostrophe for the latter. Since I typed up a lot of crime plays for my puppets, you can imagine that I needed to do that pretty often.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 7:32 PM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Since I typed up a lot of crime plays for my puppets, you can imagine that I needed to do that pretty often.

What wait, puppets can read? I always read their lines to them ,this knowledge would have saved a lot of time in rehersal.
posted by boilermonster at 9:32 PM on August 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I never realized how much I depend on being able to press the next key before the previous key has been released. I thought at first that the simulator was just randomly causing keys to not work until I realized that you can't overlap presses at all. I suppose that's true to the behavior of a full mechanical model, but I seem to recall being able to do it with electric models.

This is a bug, not a feature, I think. I have a fully mechanical typewriter, and you can totally overlap presses. (But not too closely, or it will jam.) I find it a bit difficult to type fluidly on the simulator without any overlapping.

Speaking of features, I love the brokenness setting-- now that brings back memories.
posted by mr_deerheart at 11:40 PM on August 2, 2015


andrewcooke: "whiteout was on a sheet of paper (something like a white version of the sheets you use to make multiple copies). so you backspaced, inserted the sheet between ribbon and paper, typed the same letter (printing the whiteout), then backspaced again (while removing the whiteout sheet) and then typed the correct letter."

Wait, you explain this as if there were no modern counterpart. Do y'all not have these, for correcting mistakes when filling out forms, etc., in pen?
posted by Bugbread at 12:40 AM on August 3, 2015


for correcting mistakes when filling out forms, etc., in pen?
You mean the squiggly thing under the text entry tool in Adobe/Sumatra?
That seems so much less readable than type...
posted by CrystalDave at 1:12 AM on August 3, 2015


CrystalDave: "You mean the squiggly thing under the text entry tool in Adobe/Sumatra?"

Yeah, yeah, I figured "Handwritten forms no longer exist, everything is PDF!" would come up. But, seriously, when you want to sign up for the gym, do they tell you to go home, fill out a PDF, print it, and come back to the gym? Kids swim lessons? Cellphone contracts? Anything else where you're in a store or business establishment and you need to write down your name, address, telephone number, etc.?
posted by Bugbread at 1:23 AM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


My first job was filling out the tax returns at my dad's office with the name, date of birth, and other things that weren't likely to change from year to year, in triplicate with carbon paper. It was an unholy nightmare of a job on purely manual typewriters.

My first job after I finished school was for a small business that sold cleaning franchises and I was so happy because they had an electric typewriter, with an inbuilt erasing tape. I erased entire paragraphs! Unfortunately, the office didn't have a photocopier so I still had to use carbon paper for the copy that went on file and the copies were pretty much unintelligible.

I'm still a shithouse typist (much faster though) and I love the backspace key on a computer keyboard so much I want to marry it. Manual typewriters are one thing I'm not nostalgic about AT ALL (except maybe the smell of the oily keys and the ribbon).
posted by h00py at 6:13 AM on August 3, 2015


My son has a thing for typewriters. He was upstairs yesterday typing a story on his electric Smith-Corona ($5 at a garage sale), and we had to do some serious arguing to stop him bringing home one of those giant boat-anchor manuals when we were on vacation. I think what appeals to him is the directness - you type right on the paper and that's the end of it, mistakes and all. But he taught himself to type and he's faster than me.
posted by sneebler at 8:59 AM on August 3, 2015


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