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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Olivetti v. Mac

An Olivetti Lettera DL in its natural habitat
The typewriter gods smiled down on me this week, and my supply of Olivetti typewriter ribbon arrived a couple days early. Huzzah! Naturally, I have had Olivetti on the brain ever since, knocking out pages of rough drafts, and finding any reason to pull out my Lettera's. So since I have been so obsessed, I have decided to dedicate this blog to them, and to offer my two cents to the historical significance of the company that has been so well cemented in art and engineering and typewriter history, as well as to try and rebuff the notion that Olivetti is the equivalent of a pre-digital Mac. 
Olivetti 31 hard at work
The flaw in that argument stems from the ideals that guided Olivetti as a business and sent them from a little Italian outfit struggling to break into the market to the biggest manufacturer of typewriters in the world. When Olivetti was founded by M. Camillo Olivetti, he had a vision that the typewriter could be 1. simple 2. affordable 3.beautiful. Of those three ideas, only one can really be applied to the Mac successfully. It is also the most obvious to the untrained observer. An Olivetti typewriter and a Macbook share a common aesthetic. Their bodies are simply built, containing as few lines as possible while still remaining tasteful and pleasing to the eye. They are also sleek, maintaining a low profile and minimal distractions in their interfaces.
Lettera 31 profile
Macbook profile

When typing on an Olivetti, one of the first things you may notice is a lack of accessories: card holder, large grapher, and a metal paper support to help keep the page flush with the platen. Olympias are notorious for all these extras, and for good reason. Olympias cost a ton new. This is not dissimilar to Mac's refusal to have extra "Windows" style keys that often remove the need to rely on the mouse or touch pad--page end, page up, page down, home, etc. Also, you'll see that Olivetti's--like Mac's--were painted in limited colors seldom more than one per typewriter.
Honestly, when was the last time a Mac came in anything but silver or white?
But that is where the analogy ends. Olivetti for one was a universal typewriter that could be used by anyone. They took the same paper and same carbons and had the same amount of keys. There was essentially no learning curve to go with buying one--no more than there is when going to an SCM or Royal or Underwood. But Mac is infamous for their learning curve and (until recently) the exclusivity of their programs and unwillingness to merge properly with Windows OS.
The first Lettera: the 22
Mac's are expensive to boot. An Olivetti typewriter--in 1960--only cost around $120 or $150, and they lowered with their economy models: the 31/Dora, 30/College, and 25. A Macbook, iMac, or Air, even with the market so well saturated in Mac tech, are still massive investments, requiring $1,200 to $2,000 from the consumers while not giving the same quality or longevity from Olivetti.
The evolution of the Lettera
There is also another aspect of the Olivetti that we have not--and will not--touch today: Their Spirit. Until next time...
     That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table with his Lettera 32

Monday, 19 August 2013

The "Just Leave It Alone" Edition

I go to church as a practice of irony. I don't believe in much, certainly not a loving father deity. But I enjoy the commonness of it all. How run of the mill it seems. And there isn't much else to do on a Sunday day morning.
     Whenever I find myself sinking into my vaguely religious malaise, however, the deacon or priest starts talking off the cuff, and I remember why I quit the church in the first place. I cannot stand justifying marginalization of people; equally I cannot stand hyperbole of one's own marginal status.
     Here is the scale I go by:
     If you can't get married, vote, or adopt a child because of someone else's religious belief--you've got a serious problem.
     If you cannot get a job because of the color of your skin--you've got a serious problem.
     If you're mad because more people don't think that your beliefs should dictate how my wife and I control our reproduction--you need to go to Gaza, and gain some perspective on what marginalization really is.
     I had to fight rolling my eyes as the deacon spoke of how, "Taking up the religious life" can lead to being, "ostracized by the family." My question is this: In what family does this happen?
     Maybe it's just mine, but getting decked out in Jesus never lost anyone friends or relatives. Being Gay will, and has twice. Being an Atheist and later an Agnostic certainly gave me no brownie points, and my dabbling in Buddhism has been met in mockery.
     Maybe it never came up, but being religious in a country still reeking in Judea-Christian tradition isn't really grounds for this kind of treatment. Being a jerk about it is, just as it is for everything else, and I think the herein the difference lies.
     Just as we should be able to respect our differences, we should be able to be friends or associates without constant Evangelization or Anti-Evangelization. Have you been saved? or announcing that I shouldn't buy my Quarter Pounder with Cheese on Good Friday isn't how you make friends. It is how you pull yourself away.
    Separation of person and church is possible. Jesus can come to dinner. He doesn't have to be doing a tap dance on my burrito. The fact is this: friends and family should know where to stop. Everyday doesn't have to be conversion day, nor does it need to be mock religion day.
     That's all from Elliott in the Pew and needing a Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale.

Monday, 12 August 2013

New New Normal


Watching Cold War era films on TCM, it's hard to believe that people were once so afraid of nuclear weapons. If I was younger, I might find it almost campy, like the hyper conservative values displayed in The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy.
     But it was something real, just as AIDS and Terrorism and cyber warfare were/are. The Bomb was an option, and, at any moment, whether it be the choice of our president or the British Prime Minister or the Kaiser, the world--literally the world--could be wiped away.
     So what happened?
     Stalemate. The weapon stopped being an option, at least for the 1990s. Instead, nuclear war became a concept--an abstract principle for computer geeks to build different algorithms on, or for marginalized progressive groups to get small sections of the population--the sections that still cared, which were growing smaller by the day--to get in motion and try to affect change.
     But the nineties wore on, and different, more real threats, came to the foreground: terrorists. They are our nuclear weapon. Or they were for the first half of the 00s.
     It's almost scary how used to the idea of terror we have become, much as we are so used to the constant threat of nuclear war, inequality, debt, and Putin sucking over all.
     How did we get so comfortable? Or are we just numb?

Monday, 5 August 2013

A Defense of Teachers and You and Me

     I remember, during my first years of college, a sudden outburst of these bumper stickers.
I never quite knew how to take them, being young and stupid, and, therefore, "knowing" that my teachers and professors had nothing to offer me by way of real world knowledge...and there was the matter of the fact bumper stickers come with no inflection.
     What an idiot I was.
     Though I get it now, the negative inflection I had of it then feels as though my mind was foreshadowing the political disease of Tea Party neo-conservatism. A phrase that changes the meaning by way of temporal and spatial disparities.
     How stupid could all of us have been to take that bait, even in the wake of such massive and sweeping cultural change. How could we have abandoned our educators to freely in the name of "saving this country?"
     I would never entertain the delusion that my educators were perfect celestial beings sent down to impart their secret wisdom. Sure enough, I had my share of arrogant jerk wads, a-holes, and over-steppers. I had many wonderful ones, too, who helped make me who I am: an imperfect, liberal leaning, hot-button hating, public radio listening Hipster with an Olivetti or five.
     And if more people like them were in charge, then--yes--I do believe many of this world's problems would be solved.
     How arrogant can one be to think that fixing things is something that can't be done by common folk like you and me: people pulling down 40K, working through the night, trying to help out children. What does a politician have that we don't--money?
     And we buy for that?
     England has its monarchy; we have our Plutocracy. We believed in Bush because he had the cash to make us believe. Obama didn't have the same cash, but free labor counts for something, too.
     If there was one credo we could all get behind, it is this: a problem solver--a real fixer can come from anywhere.
     Remember that Occupy and Fast Food walk-outs were not devised by a Washington genius. It was Joe and Jane Somebody. The common person is an extraordinary thing.
     That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table with a Boston Lager.