1948 Smith-Corona “Clipper”

Childhood Typewriters

I’ve had a hollow space in my chest where a typewriter wanted to be. I’d had a few inexpensive plastic ones in my childhood before having a really spectacular Smith-Corona, but I thought that through many moves it had been long lost. Until, that is, I visited my parents on spring break this past week. While going through some old papers and boxes, I ran across a dusty, but stunning old jewel from my youth. 

Hiding in a corner of memorabilia was a hard black box which I immediately recognized as my old portable typewriter! I recall my parents having purchased it at a yard sale and bringing it home for us kids to use in 1984. It took a while back then to clean it up, but I used it for a variety of school projects and papers for several years until its use for school papers was later taken over by an electronic Panasonic word processor. Despite the newer technology I still preferred that old typewriter for composing and noodling around.

Ooh, my little pretty one, my pretty one

So, what is this fantastic jewel? It’s a 1948 Smith-Corona “Clipper” 4C (serial number 4C-242370). It’s still in spectacular shape. I had to re-connect the letter “A”s linkage joint, but all the keys still work well, and it’s going to need a new ribbon. The interior is a bit dusty and needs some cleaning, but a short afternoon of tinkering should make quick work of any issues. 

Oblique angle down on the top of a black Smith-Corona Clipper sitting on a brown wooden tabletop.

What’s fascinating is that all of the parts and functionalities of the machine came back to me instantaneously when I touched it. I knew all the small subtleties of sliding in a sheet of paper and aligning it to perfection. All the small niceties like the single/double space switch, the margin adjustments, the lovely bell, the ribbon direction adjustment switch, and even the centering mechanism were right there at my fingertips.

Rear view angle of the carriage return on the Smith-Corona Clipper with a view into the internals featuring the bell. The apparatus could be cleaner and features some use and dust build up on the oiled metal.

Sadly the original key wasn’t with the typewriter’s lock, but it was easily pickable. I’m reasonably sure the key will turn up as I dig through my other childhood memorabilia in the near future. At the worst, I can probably print a new key using a recipe I’ve already found online. I even unearthed a roughly contemporaneous typewriter manual for the Smith-Corona Clipper model

And the best part is that a young 12 year old was drawn to it and immediately wanted to use it and take it home with us, so the typewriter obsession may go on for at least another generation.

I can’t wait to begin using my new (old) tool for thought in my zettelkasten practice. I’m curious to see what the slow down effect of a manual typewriter has on my writing and thinking work. Perhaps the composition of my cards at the end of the day will have the added satisfaction of punching the keys of a fantastic typewriter.

Typed 3 x 5 inch index card. The top title in red ink reads "The Power of Information" with the following quotation: 
No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them. --- Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

If nothing else, the Clipper does look quite nice next to my Shaw-Walker card index which is from the same era.

Desk level view of the front of a Shaw-Walker wooden card index tray next to a black typewriter.

Ultra-luxury of the “Clipper”

Just where does the Smith-Corona “Clipper” sit in the pantheon of typewriters? A variety of writers in the 21st century still talk about their love and nostalgia of specific typewriters mentioning the design esthetic of the Olivetti, a remembrance of an old Underwood, or their fondness of a Remington, but I think Tom Hanks sums things up pretty well:

This is what I would suggest: if you wanted the perfect typewriter that will last forever that would be a great conversation piece, I’d say get the Smith-Corona Clipper. That will be as satisfying a typing experience as you will ever have.
—Tom Hanks, actor, producer, typewriter enthusiast and collector, author of Uncommon Type on CBS Sunday Morning: “Tom Hanks, Typewriter Enthusiast” [00:07:30]

Close up of the Clipper logo on a Smith-Corona typewriter. It features a red outline of the small single wing, four engine airplane with the word "Clipper" underneath it  underlined with red waves so as to make the plane appear to be flying over water.

Of course Hanks comes by this analysis naturally as the Clipper typewriter’s namesake is the Boeing 314 Clipper, which appears prominently on the front left panel of the typewriter’s cover. The context and history of some of this airplane have been lost to current generations. Twelve of these air yachts were built by Boeing and operated for a decade between 1938 and 1948. Nine of the airplanes were operated by Pan-Am as transoceanic “one class” ultra-luxury air travel featuring lounges, dining areas with silver service for six-course meals from four-star chefs served by white coated stewards, seats that converted to sleeping bunks for overnight accommodations, and separate male and female dressing rooms for the comfort of elite businesspeople and wealthy travelers in the mid-twentieth century. As an indicator of the exclusivity and expense at the time, a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong on the Clipper was listed for $760, which is equivalent to about $15,000 adjusted for inflation in 2021 (Klaás, 1989, p. 20).

Pan Am’s Clipper service of the 1940s represents the romance of flight in that era in the same way Smith-Corona Clipper represents the romance of typing in the ensuing decades. Most Americans’ nostalgia for the luxury and exotic freedom of airline flight in the 1960s and 1970s was built on this early experience operating the Clipper nearly 20 years before.

Reverse view into the opened Smith-Corona Clipper featuring a close up view of all of the type face and levers. Just visible at the top are a side view of the keys on the front of the typewriter.

Typeface sample

Library card catalog card with the typewriter's year, make, model, serial number and samples of all the slugs and the pangram sentences "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." and "A VERY BAD QUACK MIGHT JINX ZIPPY FOWLS."

 

References

“Tom Hanks, Typewriter Enthusiast.” CBS News Sunday Morning. CBS, October 15, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTtDb73NkNM.

Klaás, M. D. (December 1989). “Clipper Across the Pacific, Part One”. Air Classics. 25 (12).

A fascinating combination of office furniture types in 1906! 

1906 Advertisement for a combination card index table and telephone stand featuring a desk with the satellite combination table next to it.

The Adjustable Table Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan manufactured a combination table for both telephones and index cards. It was designed as an accessory to be stood next to one’s desk to accommodate a telephone at the beginning of the telephone era and also served as storage for one’s card index.

Given the broad business-based use of the card index at the time and the newness of the telephone, this piece of furniture likely was not designed as an early proto-rolodex, though it certainly could have been (and very well may have likely been) used as such in practice.

Rules against quotes in Zettelkasten? A closer look at Ahrens on Quotes and Collecting

I’ve seen several places in the note taking or zettelkasten communities the general advice that one should not include quotes in or amongst their notes. The general source of this “rule” seems to stem from Sonke Ahrens’ book Smart Notes. However, suggesting that Ahrens has a “rule” against quotes is a dramatic misreading of his intent. I imagine that this potentially stems from someone reading and excerpting his intent incorrectly and then others passing it along indiscriminately in the dreadful litany of one-page blogposts about how one should keep a zettelkasten.

The word “quote” (or close variations like “quotes” and “quotation(s)”) only appear 19 times in the first edition of Ahrens’ book.

In most of the contexts which have what one might call an “anti-quote” connotation, he’s directly recommending against the practice of indiscriminate highlighting/excerpting and collecting of general quotes specifically because they don’t aid in creating understanding by the reader. Instead he repeatedly recommends that one internalize the information by rewriting it in their own words instead. This helps the reader to better understand and know what the author is trying to convey. This also allows the reader to have material in their collection already written in their own words for later reuse.

Talking about “literature notes” Ahrens writes:

He did not just copy ideas or quotes from the texts he [Luhmann] read, but made a transition from one context to another.

Be extra selective with quotes – don’t copy them to skip the step of really understanding what they mean. Keep these notes together with the bibliographic details in one place – your reference system.

Places where quote appears in a context which argues against indiscriminate collection of quotes:

A typical mistake is made by many diligent students who are adhering to the advice to keep a scientific journal. A friend of mine does not let any idea, interesting finding or quote he stumbles upon dwindle away and writes everything down.

As well, the mere copying of quotes almost always changes their meaning by stripping them out of context, even though the words aren’t changed. This is a common beginner mistake, which can only lead to a patchwork of ideas, but never a coherent thought.

It is so much easier to develop an interesting text from a lively discussion with a lot of pros and cons than from a collection of one-sided notes and seemingly fitting quotes

Even doctoral students sometimes just collect de-contextualised quotes from a text – probably the worst possible approach to research imaginable.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Lonka recommends what Luhmann recommends: Writing brief accounts on the main ideas of a text instead of collecting quotes.

Now let’s take a quick look at some of Ahrens’ “pro quote” passages which provide the opposite view of when and where quotes can be useful:

The available books fall roughly into two categories. The first teaches the formal requirements: style, structure or how to quote correctly.

It would certainly make things a lot easier if you already had everything you need right in front of you: The ideas, the arguments, the quotes, long developed passages, complete with bibliography and references.

You follow up on a footnote, go back to research and might add a fitting quote to one of your papers in the making.

In this textual infrastructure, this so-often taught workflow, it indeed does not make much sense to rewrite these notes and put them into a box, only to take them out again later when a certain quote or reference is needed during writing and thinking.

How is one to have useful/impactful/fitting/necessary quotes at hand if they haven’t excerpted them as they read? In these portions he is actively suggesting that quotes from one’s reading in their notes can be a good thing and can help in making persuasive arguments. The secret is that they need to be done judiciously. One needs to be able to quote in a manner which keeps the original context and argument, but which can also fit into your current context and provide support or further argumentation.

As an example of terrible decontextualization, who hasn’t attended a wedding that featured a reading of 1 Corinthians 13? The passage seems wholly appropriate for a church wedding reading, but when you consider that it’s excerpted out of context you might reconsider using it at your own wedding. Go back and try reading it in light of being sandwiched between Corinthians 12 and 14 and you’ll change your mind that chapter 13 is about the sort of romantic love and implied by a wedding. Once you’ve done this, there’s added comedic subtext to scenes like the following from Wedding Crashers (New Line Cinema, 2005):

Father O’Neil: And now for our second reading I’d like to ask the bride’s sister Gloria up to the lectern.
John Beckwith: 20 bucks First Corinthians.
Jeremy Grey: Double or nothing Colossians 3:12.
Gloria Cleary: And now a reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

To prevent embarrassment of this sort, perhaps when you’re quoting a source directly you ought to provide at least a short note about the context in which the words were provided?

Any good rhetorician will tell you that quoting works in your writing can be incredibly helpful in building context and creating authority.

If anything, Ahrens’ book is missing a section on “how to quote correctly”, and this is a stumbling block of his text. As a quick remedy, one could read a bit of Seneca perhaps?

“We should follow, men say, the example of the bees, who flit about and cull the flowers that are suitable for producing honey, and then arrange and assort in their cells all that they have brought in; these bees, as our Vergil says: ‘pack close the flowering honey And swell their cells with nectar sweet.’”
—Seneca in 84th letter to Luculius (“On Gathering Ideas”), Epistles 66-92. With an English translation by Richard G. Gummere. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library, 2006), 277-285.

Beyond just Ahrens there are several thousands of years of prior art seen in the commonplace book tradition where quotes feature not only prominently but at times almost exclusively. Quotes, particularly sententiae, are some of the most excerpted and transmitted bits of knowledge in the entire Western canon. Without quotes, the entire tradition of excerpting and note taking might not exist.

Of course properly quoting is a sub-art in and of itself within rhetoric and the ars excerpendi.

Fellow note taking writer Umberto Eco warns against this same sort of indiscriminate collecting without actively making the knowledge your own. In How to Write a Thesis (MIT Press, 2015, p125), instead of railing against indiscriminate highlighting, or digital cutting and pasting, Eco talks about another sort of technological collection tool more rampant in the 1990s and early 2000s which facilitated this sort of pattern: the photocopier.

Beware the “alibi of photocopies”! Photocopies are indispensable instruments. They allow you to keep with you a text you have already read in the library, and to take home a text you have not read yet. But a set of photocopies can become an alibi. A student makes hundreds of pages of photocopies and takes them home, and the manual labor he exercises in doing so gives him the impression that he possesses the work. Owning the photocopies exempts the student from actually reading them. This sort of vertigo of accumulation, a neocapitalism of information, happens to many. Defend yourself from this trap: as soon as you have the photocopy, read it and annotate it immediately. If you are not in a great hurry, do not photocopy something new before you own (that is, before you have read and annotated) the previous set of photocopies. There are many things that I do not know because I photocopied a text and then relaxed as if I had read it.

Many people may highlight, tag, or collect a variety of quotes within a text, but this activity is only a simulacrum of understanding and knowledge acquisition. This pattern can be particularly egregious in digital contexts where cutting and pasting has be come even easier and simpler than using a photocopier.  Writing it down and summarizing important ideas in your own words will actively help you on your way to ownership of the material you’re consuming.

A zettelkasten with no quotes—by definition—shouldn’t carry the name. So let’s lay to rest that dreadful idea that quotes aren’t allowed in a zettelkasten.

And if you’re just starting out on your zettelkasten or commonplace book journey and don’t know where to begin, I’ve recommended before writing down the following apropos quote and continuing from there:

No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them.
—Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum (Secker & Warburg)

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  • Session 1: Mission briefing: 19 January 2023 at 16:00 GMT (Watch Live)
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@reclaimhosting@reclaim.rocks @jimgroom@social.ds106.us @marendeepwell@social.ds106.us

Reposted a post by Ryan RandallRyan Randall (hcommons.social)
Earnest but still solidifying #pkm take:
The ever-rising popularity of personal knowledge management tools indexes the need for liberal arts approaches. Particularly, but not exclusively, in STEM education.
When people widely reinvent the concept/practice of commonplace books without building on centuries of prior knowledge (currently institutionalized in fields like library & information studies, English, rhetoric & composition, or media & communication studies), that's not "innovation."
Instead, we're seeing some unfortunate combination of lost knowledge, missed opportunities, and capitalism selectively forgetting in order to manufacture a market.
Replied to a post by Ben AdidaBen Adida (Adida.net Mastodon)
I'm pessimistic about the chances of a federated Twitter gaining and sustaining wide adoption. But I could be wrong, and I'd love to be wrong. So in the spirit of contributing rather than just whining, I wrote up a few thoughts. Don't let federation make the experience suck. cc @blaine http://benlog.com/2022/12/28/dont-let-federation-make-the-experience-suck/ #federation #web #mastodon
@blaine@mastodon.social I can’t find the quote from earlier in the week for proper attribution, but someone essentially said “Mastodon brought a spec (ActivityPub, etc.) to a user experience fight.” This is too true, but we also need to be careful of all this not devolving into the RSS Atom Wars which sidetracked developers and allowed corporations to win on the usability front. Conversation on this post already shows heavy evidence of this devolution into architecture astronomy instead of usability. 😔
Replied to a post by Arindam Basu (@arinbasu1@social.arinbasu.online)Arindam Basu (@arinbasu1@social.arinbasu.online) (social.arinbasu.online)
Please share some resources on #Zettelkasten you have found useful.
@emkmiller@sciences.social, @josh@sciences.social, @arinbasu1@social.arinbasu.online Here’s a collection of material I’ve written relating to Zettelkasten which some may find useful: https://boffosocko.com/research/zettelkasten-commonplace-books-and-note-taking-collection/

In this area, I prefer using Zotero for collecting, ResearchRabbit for expanding scope, Hypothes.is for note taking/annotations which I then pipe into Obsidian for revising, cross linking, and further writing/revisions. Depending on the project, some of it may be more analog with index cards similar to Victor Margolin’s process.

To show the general benefits, I’m copying and pasting from my own prior notes and writing:

ZK is an excellent tool for literature reviews! It is a relative neologism (with a slightly shifted meaning in English over the past decade with respect to its prior historical use in German) for a specific form of note taking or commonplacing that has generally existed in academia for centuries. Excellent descriptions of it can be found littered around, though not under a specific easily searchable key word or phrase, though perhaps phrases like “historical method” or “wissenschaftlichen arbeitens” may come closest.
Some of the more interesting examples of it being spelled out in academe include:

For academic use, anecdotally I’ve seen very strong recent use of the general methods most compellingly demonstrated in Obsidian (they’ve also got a Discord server with an academic-focused channel) though many have profitably used DevonThink and Tinderbox (which has a strong, well-established community of academics around it) as much more established products with dovetails into a variety of other academic tools. Obviously there are several dozens of newer tools for doing this since about 2018, though for a lifetime’s work, one might worry about their longevity as products.

I study many of these methods from the viewpoint of intellectual history (and not just for my own use), so I’m happy to discuss them and their variations ad nauseam.

For this week, I’m recommending a feed reader—a different sort of feed reader: https://fraidyc.at/. Kicks Condor has designed an interface that you can sort by frequency/time as well as tag. It also encourages you to read content on the person’s site directly, so you get the web experience they chose rather than a more vanilla interface.

🎧Episode 539: Frustrated On Your Behalf | Core Intuition

Listened to Episode 539: Frustrated On Your Behalf by Manton Reece and Daniel Jalkut from Core Intuition

Manton and Daniel talk about payments from the Small App Developer settlement against Apple. Why does Manton refuse to accept free money, and are there valid reasons to opt out of the settlement? Then they reflect on the wave of opportunity from Twitter’s drastic downfall, and whether Manton and Daniel can “catch it”. Finally, Manton remembers the IndieWeb principles about plurality and monoculture, and they discuss how that might relate to Mastodon.

Replied to The ethics of syndicating comments using WebMentions by @edent@edent (Terence Eden’s Blog)
This blog uses WebMention technology. If you write an article on your website and mention one of my blog posts, I get a notification. That notification can then be published as a comment. It usually looks something like this: Screenshot of a comment showing that someone mentioned my post on their bl...
Not an answer to the dilemma, though I generally take the position of keeping everything unless someone asks me to take it down or that I might know that it’s been otherwise deleted. Often I choose not to delete my copy, but simply make it private and only viewable to me.

On the deadnaming and related issues, it would be interesting to create a webmention mechanism for the h-card portions so that users might update these across networks. To some extent Automattic’s Gravatar system does this in a centralized manner, but it would be interesting to see it separately. Certainly not as big an issue as deadnaming, but there’s a similar problem on some platforms like Twitter where people will change their display name regularly for either holidays, or lately because they’re indicating they’d rather be found on Mastodon or other websites.

The webmention spec does contain details for both editing/deleting content and resending webmentions to edit and/or remove the original. Ideally this would be more broadly adopted and used in the future to eliminate the need for making these choices by leaving the choice up to the original publisher.

Beyond this, often on platforms that don’t have character limits (Reddit for example), I’ll post at the bottom of my syndicated copy of content that it was originally published on my site (along with the permalink) and explicitly state that I aggregate the replies from various locations which also helps to let people know that they might find addition context or conversation at the original post should they be interested. Doing this on Twitter, Mastodon, et al. is much harder due to space requirements obviously.

While most responses I send would fall under fair use for copying, I also have a Creative Commons license on my text in an effort to help others feel more comfortable with having copies of my content on their sites.

Another ethical layer to this is interactions between sites which both have webmentions enabled. To some extent this creates an implicit bi-directional relationship which says, I’m aware that this sort of communication exists and approve of your parsing and displaying my responses.

The public norms and ethics in this area will undoubtedly evolve over time, so it’s also worth revisiting and re-evaluating the issue over time.

This I’m recommending:

And all three for their kindness and thoughtfulness in technology spaces.

@jimgroom I’ve not seen the admin UI, but is there a toggle for what appears on the /explore page of an instance? I notice that some smaller instances have pages of people to check out (opted in by each user in the settings), eg: https://hcommons.social/explore. Did social.ds106.us specifically opt out of this for its instance?
Listened to Mark Bernstein on Tinderbox by Jorge ArangoJorge Arango from The Informed Life

Mark Bernstein is chief scientist of Eastgate Systems, Inc. He’s been writing hypertexts and developing hypertext authoring software since the late 1980s. Mark is the creator of Tinderbox and other tools for thinking that “harness the power of the link.” In this conversation, we discuss thinking through connected notes.

Some subtle insights here.

representational talkback; the design of taking notes in the present when you’re not sure how they’ll connect to ideas in the (imagined) future; The Tinderbox Way; by force, all research is bottom up.

Bookmarked Indxd (indxd.ink)
Filling up notebooks is great - but what happens when you need one obscure factoid that's stashed somewhere among dozens of notebooks? Searchability is Analog's Achilles heel.

Introducing Indxd
I wanted a simple, searchable index of all the topics in all my notebooks. So I built it, and you can use it too. Indxd lets you quickly enter notebooks and their topics, then search and browse everything.
INDXD is a digital, web-based index tool for your analog notebooks.

Ostensibly allows one to digitally index their paper notebooks (page numbers optional). It emails you weekly text updates, so you’ve got a back up of your data if the site/service disappears.

This could potentially be used by those who have analog zettelkasten practices, but want the digital search and some back up of their system.


sgtstretch in @Gaby @pimoore so a good friend of mine makes INDXD which is for indexing analog notebooks and being able to find things. I don’t personally use it, but I know @patrickrhone has written about it before. ()

Cosma by Arthur Perret et al seems to be just the sort of interoperable, open, & standards-based tools for thought app that Friends of the Link will appreciate
@flancian @JerryMichalski @MathewLowry @Borthwick @dwhly @An_Agora @ZsViczian
https://cosma.graphlab.fr/en/docs/user-manual/