pleia2's blog Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph's public journal about open source, mainframes, beer, travel, pink gadgets and her life near the city where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars. Fri, 26 May 2023 04:26:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Wide-carriage Royal FP Elite Fri, 26 May 2023 04:26:46 +0000 Several weeks ago I proposed going to the Alameda Point Antiques Faire. I learned about it through the documentary, California Typewriter, but very specifically didn’t go there to look at typewriters. I like antique fairs! I wanted to browse some vinyl records! The fresh air would be enjoyable for the whole family! Besides, the secret was clearly out among typewriter fans. I actually joked with MJ by promising that I wouldn’t buy a typewriter.

You see where this is going right?

We came home with a 1959 wide-carriage Royal FP Elite.

I am not a typewriter expert, but getting to know the three typewriters I already owned deepened my familiarity with them, and the work I did on my Skyriter has put me into interesting territory as far as tinkerers go. Imagine my surprise when, after asking for permission, I popped open the hood and started fiddling with the mechanisms to do a quick assessment of the status of the device. I really do know my way around a typewriter now! The assessment there on the pavement was spot on, it was a solid machine that worked well, and actually needed less work than my little Skyriter. And at $40 (knocked down from $50 when I paused to contemplate) it was a steal. The hardest part about all of this was carrying it to the car. It probably weighs 40lbs!

The fact that it’s wide-carriage certainly didn’t help with the weight. The amusing thing is that I don’t NEED a wide-carriage typewriter and now I have two in my collection (the Remington KMC in Philadelphia is also wide-carriage). They’re actually quite unwieldy and arguably less aesthetically-pleasing than the ones that have carriages that stay mostly within the bounds of the body of the typewriter. But here we are. I may have to find something creative to do with wide-carriages.

At home I’ve taken my time with it. Life has been challenging for us lately, so it’s not like I’ve had hours to sit around by myself to work on a new project. An evening here or there, an hour while the kids are napping. In the course of these times I discovered Magic Margins. In theory, Magic Margins allow you to quickly set the margins on your typewriter with the tap of a lever. In practice, they’re over-engineered for a problem I have a hard time believing was severe (setting margins is not a hard problem!), and when they get out of whack, it’s not like it’s a simple mechanism that you can easily fiddle with until it’s fixed. I spent most of my time these past few weeks trying to fix the fact that the margins had gone to the center and wouldn’t go back, and I finally hit r/typewriter for some advice. They came through! A helpful fellow typewriter fan took the time to explain the concept, which equipped me with enough information to figure out the problem. Turns out the whole thing wasn’t “gunked up” but the little tooth that goes into the track was stuck in the track. Once I found it and popped it up, I was able to use the Magic Margin levers to set it the way I wanted it.

Then there was the ribbon. At first I thought it had dried out a bit and I started looking for a replacement. Thankfully I was saved by this Royal having a very specific type of ribbon and with a price tag that matched what I paid for the typewriter, I wasn’t going to jump on it. Turns out, that it was simply at one end of the spool, and on these Royals there is a switch to reverse spool directions. Once I flipped it to the other direction, it moved along the ribbon nicely and I got dark letters.

The final hurdle was sticky keys. I hadn’t cleaned the machine much at all, and some of the keys in the center would get stuck up after striking. I took some rubbing alcohol to the arms and slugs, which got me most of the way to unstuck keys. Then after a few minutes of typing they all seemed to be behaving properly. I do think that this was a temporary though, and I’ll have to get in there with some proper typewriter oil (which I have!) to give them a once-over so it doesn’t continue to have a “warm-up” period.

So, how is it to type on? It may actually be my favorite one to type on. Those white keys may not be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but they are so delightful to the touch. I very quickly got swept up in typing on it.

What will I do with it? Who needs another standard! That’s the question. MJ was the first one to say “Lyz has a typewriter collection” because for me they each served a very specific purpose. But now that I have two standards here in California, resisting the label of “collector” is starting to become a challenge. I don’t actually want to fill a bookcase with typewriters since I want to make sure they all receive the love and respect they deserve. And I don’t have space. At the same time, I really do love these mechanical things. I’ll never be good enough to repair them professionally, and I want to make sure those who are stay in business and aren’t undercut by hacks like me, we need them! I need them! But the peace, frustration, and satisfaction I get from finding a problem and solving it on these mechanical devices is something I’ve fallen in love with. The debugging process is very similar to what I fell in love with on computers, but the mechanical nature of them makes it just different enough to be a fun new new thrill.

I bought a record player, twice Wed, 24 May 2023 02:45:07 +0000 In the 1970s and 80s my parents had an AM/FM stereo system with a cassette, an 8-track, and the quintessential record player on top. When I was a teenager in the 1990s my parents replaced it with a much smaller system that had a 9-disc CD changer and I got to put the old stereo system in my bedroom. I then made my way through garage sales and flea markets for “old” records and grew a small collection of classic rock and Disney albums, many of them selling for 10-25 cents a piece. Like many people of my generation I got rid of my collection when I moved away from home and went fully digital.

I am not an audiophile, so I never really understood the recent rise of record player popularity. Day to day I’m perfectly happy to stream music through the tiny Bluetooth speakers that float around our house. It wasn’t until recently when I started seeing the value of slowing down and appreciating the warm, physical sound of a record. The discourse around this thread of thinking tends to be that we’re all running around living this fast-paced life, so we’re losing some of what is so beautiful about life. Mindfulness and other slowing down practices are bringing us back to enjoying the present, and this is right where the record player comes in. You slow down, pull out this giant piece of media from a beautiful sleeve, and hear the scratchy of the edge of a record before settling in. It turns hitting play on your phone into a ritual, one that I really like.

So one night when insomnia was creeping up on me, I bought a record player off of Amazon for less than $50. It was a purple case player with built-in speakers and a familiar old brand name, and it was so cute!

It was a mistake. I posted it to Facebook and swiftly got a response explaining that the cheaper players with the simple needle and plate systems were very bad for records, and I should reconsider my purchase. That’s the curse and benefit of clever friends! As much as I liked this cute little player, he was right. I had read entry level reviews saying this player was fine, but anyone who knew anything about modern record systems would have tried to warn me against it. I packed it up and returned it, and it r/vinyl for a proper recommendation. I quickly discovered that I was very much not the first person to have gone down this identical path. Some people are perfectly happy with their $50 player, especially if they don’t use it much or expect it to be more of a novelty, but I knew that wouldn’t be me.

I was quickly swept into the $200 range with no built-in speakers, and ended up with an Audio-Technica AT-LPW30TK. It was the right path to take. We have a receiver and nice speakers in our living room, where I’d listen anyway, so there was no need for built-in speakers. MJ ordered some wires to get it configured properly since the receiver several feet away from where it ended up residing, and we sat down one evening last week and got it set up. It looks beautiful.

Already little Aaron is a big fan, and when he’s in the living room he’ll walk over to it and say “play music!” as if it’s the most natural thing he’s ever been exposed to. I’m a fan too, it really is a lovely record player.

Now to find vinyl that hasn’t exploded in price. This new world of vinyl fans like myself means the flea market bins of 25 cent records are hard to find. Many albums that have name recognition are going to cost at least a few dollars, and at the record shop in my town there are shelves and shelves of vintage records already going for over $30 each. They’ve become real collectors items! So went to the back room where the records were much cheaper and found a few gems, walking out with a $16 pile of $2 records that I’m quite pleased with. Then, when we were at the antiques fair in Alameda I found a booth that had a lot of vintage records that were more my pace price-wise, ranging from $5-10 each, immediately half off of list price, and they’d “work out a deal” if I bought more than five. Cool. I got my deal, and was amused when I got home and peeled off the $5 sticker from the new-to-me Toto album:

Hah! So I only spent $2.50 on it, but up from 25 cents? That’s a 10x increase! Now these folks have had to pay for storage all these years, and have to pay for a stall and haul out these records to sell every month, so I don’t begrudge them at all for serving the needs of folks like me, and truly I’m grateful.

And with that I conclude with my first new vinyl purchase…ever? I don’t think I ever got anything new when I was a teenager. I started browsing through online shops and found the perfect one, the Encanto soundtrack. It wasn’t going to break the bank (about $20), has songs that I love, and it’s just a lovely sleeve to behold.

Childcare, anniversary, trucks, and antiques Sat, 20 May 2023 18:30:38 +0000 We participate in the Au Pair program. It’s an exchange program overseen by the State Department that matches families who have childcare needs with young people who are looking to spend a year in another country and take some classes abroad. We started with it when Adam was just a few months old and have welcomed two au pairs into our family in that time, and we were all set to welcome our third! But due to unforeseen circumstances, those plans fell apart just two weeks before she was to join us. Instead, we moved forward with finding someone who was already in the US but had to find a new family to spend the rest of their year with.

Spoiler: It actually all worked out.

But it was a tense two weeks of every evening spent doing interviews to find a good match. We had to cobble together childcare for the gap period we ended up with, from the empty pool of babysitters that we never refilled since the pandemic has started to wane. I am also a terrible judge of character because I’m the forever optimist when it comes to people I meet, so the interview process is extra challenging for me. The stress has definitely taken a toll. I haven’t been sleeping well, and I’ve been wearing myself ragged each day with work, interviews, and almost no time to myself. Parenthood for me has already meant that I wake up every morning tired, but this is an extra layer of challenging. Plus, uncertainty. I tried not to worry, but what if we couldn’t find someone? I don’t have enough vacation time to stay home with the kids for weeks while we continued the search, and the pandemic meant I’m very familiar with how exhausting trying to juggle childcare and work is, even with two parents here to share the load.

Fortunately, we found someone! We’re really grateful to have welcomed our new au pair to our home on Sunday. We were still balancing childcare with babysitters still coming by this week while she takes some time to settle in, but it’s a tremendous relief to have an end to childcare troubles in sight.

Childcare crisis triage aside, we did still carve out some family time for a bit of fun here and there. On April 28th MJ and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. We were both at somewhat of a loss as to what to do to mark the occasion given our precarious situation childcare-wise, and we didn’t really want to postpone celebration. Evenings out were simply too hard, and what could do such a milestone justice? We finally landed upon a weekday in San Francisco. I swept everything off my work calendar and took a random Thursday off with very little notice (sorry, team). We hopped on BART that morning and started off our day together with brunch in our old neighborhood!

We then did a total transit nerd thing: we visited the new Central Subway. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t the most direct way to get where we were going, but we had never seen the new subway and when MJ suggested it as a possible way to get to the ballpark, I was totally on board with the proposal, so to speak. And it was fun! We’re still a bit confounded by the way it “connects” to Powell Street Station, and given all the signs everywhere I think other folks are too, but it is a lovely, clean, new station and I enjoyed wandering through it while we waited for our train.

Plus, it was a good way to get to the ballpark as it was likely less crowded than taking the more direct MUNI Metro route. Our first stop at the ballpark was the dugout shop. We normally wouldn’t spend a lot on merchandise at a game, but a cute couples-matching something was on my mind as a nice way to observe our 10th anniversary. We walked out with a couple custom orders for Crawford jerseys, which they didn’t have our size of in stock off-the-shelf. Receipt in hand to collect later, we made our way to our seats.

On the way, I found a typewriter. Of course I did.

The seats MJ selected were excellent. He spent a lot of time scouring reviews and browsing photos for the perfect spot, and he succeeded. It didn’t have access to the super exclusive field club, but I actually liked this one more. The views were great, we still didn’t have to wait in a long line for food or drinks, and the atmosphere was right on. I think if we had the kids with us I might have preferred staying in the general area because we’d likely avail ourselves of all the activities beyond baseball that the park had to offer, but when it was just the two of us there to enjoy good company, junk food, beer, and baseball, this was perfect.

The weekend following our anniversary I discovered a Truck Time event in San Ramon, where a bunch of organizations brought in large trucks for kids to climb in or look at. Aaron was really into it, climbing into every cab he could and he really enjoyed the city bus on display. Adam was a little less enthusiastic, but I think that’s just because it got crowded pretty quickly. Afterwards we made our way over to the nearby farmer’s market there at city center before heading back to Castro Valley for a late lunch.

We kept ourselves busy the weekend after that starting with a visit to a book sale at our local library. They host these used book sales every few months, and it’s a nice opportunity to pick up a few more books for the boys for just a couple dollars. I usually grab a couple for myself too, but the boys were on the wild side and I couldn’t really focus on browsing books myself. That said, I don’t need more books, so maybe it was for the best!

On Sunday we went to an antiques fair in Alameda that I had recently discovered. I learned about it while watching a typewriter documentary in which the protagonists go to this antiques fair to find typewriters that were worth restoring or using for parts. I half-joked with MJ that I wouldn’t buy one, but he knew me better than that. When we came across a lovely Royal FPE, he was not only was supportive, but was ready to buy it for me. The hardest part was hauling it back to the truck. It’s over 30 pounds and it was a bit of a walk. On the walk back I came across a beautiful portable Underwood, but decided that I should limit my haul to just the one.

I also got some vinyl records at the antique fair. I’ll go a bit more in depth about buying a record player because it’s a whole story, but I was amused that records that had been going for 25 cents have shot up to five dollars or more, which reflects people like me who are returning to analog enjoyment of music.

My stress and exhaustion levels are still quite high, but I’m doing my best and continuing to make sure we all have engaging things to do. I’m also finally catching up on some house stuff I let slide for a couple weeks, and while it’s not enjoyable, I’m glad to get it done. I also made some time to fix up my new typewriter, which certainly is enjoyable.

Green and purple Skyriter Fri, 05 May 2023 03:04:10 +0000 It started with my Smith-Corona Skyriter needing a new ribbon. I’d been coping with a pretty dry ribbon, but after some searching I discovered that while the ribbon spool is not the most standard size for typewriters, it is A standard, and TheModernTypewriter on Etsy sells ribbons on those spools. Not only that, they sell them in various colors! I have three typewriters and knew that I didn’t want to go black (or red) with this single-color ribbon, when other options were so close in price. After much agonizing, I went with purple. I’d never replaced a typewriter ribbon before, but I remembered reading in The Typewriter Revolution that replacing one for the first time will often get you covered in ink, so I embraced the chaos and just dove in with ungloved hands as I figured out how it wove into the mechanisms. I might use gloves next time, I had purple fingertips for over a day.

My next project was preventing my Skyriter form stinking up the entire downstairs every time I took it out. MJ and I joked about the smell, but the truth is that nostalgic smell we were noting was actually mildew, and not something I was keen to keep around. So I popped the core mechanism of my Skyriter out for the 100th time (see my post, I’m now the proud owner of a 1950 Smith-Corona Skyriter) and spent over 5 days scraping, scrubbing, and applying Goof Off to the base to remove every scrap of vintage, mildewy felt. Honestly, if I knew it would be this hard I may have tried some of mildew killer or something first, but all the online resources embraced the process of felt replacement, so that’s what I went with.

I then carefully replaced it with some green, sticky-back felt that I had from an earlier art project. At least this part of the project went smoothly!

I may regret using a non-dark color for this some time in the future, especially if I end up using my typewriter oil on it at some point and it drips, but I actually really do like the green peeking out from under as I type.

I was so proud of my accomplishment, but then I smelled mildew again. What?

Oh no.

So, I have some more work to do felt-wise. I’m going to wait a little while though, I’m a bit fumed out from my last round of Goof Off, and I think my family is too! Plus, the mildew smell from the top portion isn’t nearly as offensive.

One of the other things I discovered from this endeavor was that I did a tiny bit of damage with that Goof Off. It’s strong stuff, and while I didn’t think much about removing the paint on the inside, when I finished I decided to do a little touch-up on the outside, and that’s where I ended up causing some marks. Oh no! My poor baby! To make myself feel better, I re-focused on how pleased I was to have cleaned out my old typewriter, and it didn’t matter much how it looked. The blemishes are character-building!

But then I was reading in aforementioned typewriter book about typewriter modding. The author cautioned against making changes to rare typewriters, but non-rare ones? He has several in his collection that he modified himself! As cool as it is, my beloved Skyriter is not a rare typewriter. I don’t need to worry about hurting it. In fact, if I want to continue making this my beloved pal, totally refinishing it may actually be the next logical step! Besides, while I have a morbid fondness for that green/grey crackly paint, I wouldn’t say I actually like it that much. Maybe a whole new green refinish is in it’s future?

The final cleaning I had on my agenda for this round of restoration was the key slugs. Those are the metal parts that hit the ink and paper, and I noticed a few letters being a bit gunky, so I watched a few YouTube videos and then got to work with a toothbrush and some rubbing alcohol. I may do a more thorough job in the future using some of the tips I learned online, but I’m really happy with the result of a once-over for now.

And so with my lovely, tuned up, non-smelly typewriter, I figured we’d go on an adventure. A park was the first thing on my list, but then my plans shifted slightly and I decided to just go to a nearby outdoor cafe. It was a beautiful day, I got to enjoy a nice coffee, and just spend a little time writing.

I’d say the only major remaining annoyance is the space bar. The bottom of the case is a bit warped, so it’s taking a bit more effort than I’d like to engage the space bar. I spent a little time bending the case back and it worked better, and then it went back to the way it was when I took it out for our adventure. I’m not sure what I’ll try next, but while other quirkiness is tolerable, I think the space bar situation will need to be addressed if I’m going to enjoy much writing on it.

Passover, Tidbyt & TrainTrackr, and gardening Tue, 02 May 2023 02:53:13 +0000 When our flight from Philadelphia landed in San Francisco a few weeks ago, it was cool and very dark. We don’t usually take such late flights, but the timing and cost worked out that way this time. It had been a bit of a rough flight due to the boys missing naps too, but at least we had finally gotten to the end of our colds, which had hit us hard during most of our time in Philadelphia.

The first thing we did when we got back, aside from returning to work after a couple days off to prepare and travel home, was to go shopping for Passover food! Passover began on the evening of the first full day we were home, so MJ had to drive up to the city to grab our Seder plate and prepared meal (which we thankfully had the forethought to order the week before) and then stop at a couple places to grab some matzoh and some unleavened goodies for the week. We ended up not doing our family Seder on the first night because all of us were just too tired to pull it off, but we got to enjoy it all on the second night.

I also successfully made matzoh brei for the first time. The last time I tried was when MJ and I were living in San Francisco, and it turned out to be an eggy mess, and I wasn’t eager to try again. But MJ convinced me this year, and we needed something to eat on Saturday morning, when we usually have challah french toast. I watched a video on YouTube and then exercised my new found patience during cooking to execute. It came out just like it should! Admittedly, it may not look like much, and you’d never guess that matzoh and egg would turn out good, let alone something to apply syrup to, but it really does work, and everyone ate some, including Adam whose dislike for eggs made him extra skeptical.

In hobby news, I finally set up my Tidbyt and TrainTrackr. I say this like they’re actually related, but they’re not. The Tidbyt is a little retro display, and the TrainTrackr is a circuit board and series of components and LEDs arranged and programmed to do real-time tracking of BART trains. They are similar only in that they’re both neat little plug-and-play devices, they can both be used to track BART trains, and I had both sitting in a closet for over a year because their hokey WiFi configurations aren’t compatible with our WiFi setup here. So, did I solve our WiFi conundrum? Well, no. I just put them out and tether through my phone when I want to enjoy them, usually in the evening when I’m in my big comfy chair writing (hello!).

On weekends we’ve been spending a fair amount of time outdoors. Partially out of necessity, but it’s also been beautiful out. A very rainy winter led to the weeds in our yard getting quite out of control, and now that the boys are old enough to enjoy spending time outside in the garden, I’ve taken advantage of that. One Saturday was spent pulling weeds and mowing the small patch of lawn out front.

We spent that Sunday planning for and installing a series of inexpensive, solar-powered lights out front. We’ll end up replacing them when we get a more permanent outdoor landscaping plan set in motion, but for now it’s nice to make some small improvements. Plus, it was really fun to get out some pencils and rulers with Adam to plan out the lighting.


Speaking of which, I also expanded my collection of lawn ornaments! I never saw myself as a lawn ornament person, and find most of them tacky, but then Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep series of lawn ornaments came out. They may still be tacky, but I fell in love. Plus, I had a nice spot of mulch-y garden that they’d fit nicely in. My collection began with Gromit, Shaun, and Timmy. A smaller, pacifier-laden Timmy came out recently, and I snapped that one up too during a recent Gromit Unleased order. The Wallace and Feathers McGraw figures had been on my radar for a while, but shipping from the UK is expensive (something I avoided with my first set, since they were available domestically), so I kept waiting for them to be offered here. Ultimately they still aren’t available here, and I was worried about them being discontinued, so I bought them last month. They round out our collection nicely!

To conclude some of our plant adventures, we checked out a local garden sale recently and then did some planting on Earth Day. The plants we got at the garden sale mostly just slotted into a big metal thing (vintage oven?) that came with the house, but I also decided to dig up some planters that the previous owner had left on the fence and we deposited some succulents in them, clippings from mature plants we have. Unfortunately I swiftly learned that critters like digging up those planters. Within a day, both had holes dug in the soil and all the succulent trimmings were displaced. I’m not sure where to go from here, the succulent clippings aren’t taking root as a result, and it’s hard for us to keep other types of plants alive, hah!

I am not optimistic about our ability to maintain a beautiful yard ourselves. Life and work as it is keeps us incredibly busy, and aside from the enjoyment we get with the boys, we don’t exactly enjoy regular gardening as an activity. But it did feel good to get the major weeding done so our yard is doesn’t get completely out of hand.

I’m back! At CPOSC 2023 Sat, 29 Apr 2023 21:50:26 +0000 In 2009 MJ and I drove out to the Central Pennsylvania Open Source Conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was still living in the suburbs of Philadelphia at the time, and was excited to participate in the Ubuntu booth and give my first conference talk! I’d given talks at the local Philadelphia Linux User Group, but never at a real conference. I was extremely anxious, and even dressed in a button-down shirt and slacks. I need to remind myself of this when I see young people at conferences as I parade around in my hoodie and jeans proclaiming that we don’t need to dress up. I was once that young person looking to be taken seriously by all the professional adults too. If you want to read more about my experience at that conference, I wrote about it here: CPOSC 2009 wrap-up and an interview.

I moved to California just a few months later, during one of the snowiest winters Philadelphia had seen in years. I was aware of CPOSC continuing over the years, but I could never sync up my visits back with the conference. This year serendipity stepped in. I just happened to discover via a chat in #plug a week and a half prior that CPOSC was happening during our visit to Philadelphia. Even better, they were still accepting applications for lightning talks. I swiftly submitted something (which was accepted!) and started making arrangements to attend. It was on a Saturday, but thankfully MJ had a friend in town who wanted time with the boys, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to sneak out for a day.

Friday night I attended a musical with some friends downtown, stayed the night in a hotel in Philadelphia, and then was up bright and early the next morning to catch my Amtrak train to Lancaster, where CPOSC was now based. Unfortunately it was a little rainy that day, so I got a little damp on my walk to the station, and then had to take an Uber from the station in Lancaster to the venue, but it all worked out. I was at CPOSC in time to catch the tail end of the provided breakfast refreshments and to say hello to some friends before the opening remarks.

The first talk was on “MAME – The Future of the Past (Open-Source Retro Computing and Gaming Emulation)” by Gregory Ember. This was one of my favorite talks of the event. While I may not have a lot of time for games these days, I do love them, and I really love geeking out about retro emulation tech. His talk gave a bit of a history of the project, which provided glimpses into some of the fascinating problems they’ve encountered and overcome. Fortuitously, he made an off-hand comment about mainframes, which gave me an opening to chat with him later and we were able to connect on social media post-event. Cool! I’m totally going to carve out some time to play with MAME.

Then I joined a packed room for a talk by my friend Walt Mankowski on “Remedial Math for Programmers” which I remember cheering him on for when he submitted his talk. In my case, about half the “remedial math” he was talking about was stuff I never actually learned because I didn’t go to school for computer science (I didn’t go to college or university at all). So it was a refresher for a few things, but some of the concepts were entirely new to me. I loved his style of presenting it with examples though, since it made it so much easier for me to understand.

The final talk before lunch was from Deanna Bledsoe on “8-Year-Olds are Learning to Code!” and she gave a great tour of the landscape today for younger folks learning how to code. I had been passingly familiar with Scratch and, but it had been a while since I’d looked at any of it, and that was all before I became a parent. I didn’t really need an excuse to strike up a conversation with her, so it was a real delight when I saw her in the hallway later and we were able to talk about our shared interest in getting kids into STEM for a few minutes. I also used my time in the “hallway track” to chime into a conversation about package management, which folks came and went from and then ended up talking about amateur radio. It was during this discussion that I remembered what I missed so much about in-person conferences: those random, geeky personal connections. I’m shy, and half the people I was talking to I’d just met, but in that moment we were all just geeking out over topics we either had expertise or interest in. It’s so nice to be back to doing events. Just prior all that, I attended a talk by Tom Swartz on “Open Source Home Automation” where he focused on Home Assistant, and I was really glad to hear (and see!) that they’ve made some really great advances in the past couple years, it may be time for me to play around with it again.

If I had to say there was a them to my afternoon, it was AI. The first talk after lunch was “An AI Wrote This Talk” by Tom Swartz and it was an incredibly entertaining romp through the power, and shortcomings of ChatGPT and other LLM technologies out there, for now. We still need human intervention to truly make something engaging that connects to people, but how far are we away from a world where it’s not? This dovetailed nicely with the final talk of the day, from Richard Everts, on “What is Really Happening Right Now With AI”. Want to be scared a bit? I joked that it wouldn’t be an open source conference without a scary AI talk, and while he did have some bright spots, the general tone of the talk was a bit dystopian. There are some real concerns out there about the rapid progression of machine learning technologies. We may not have to worry about robots for a while, but deep fakes are already altering our perception of the world, and there really is no closing Pandora’s Box. In more localized concerns, routine programming tasks may be very well suited to AI, so our expertise in the technology realm may be going up a rung on the ladder. But I thought about this a lot on my train ride home, hasn’t this always been the case? As our tools and hardware advance, so do we. None of us are swapping out vacuum tubes or writing code for punched cards anymore. Plus, with every advance in technology, we’re able to do so much more! The folks breaking codes with early computers in WWII couldn’t dream of what would be happening in the world of computing just half a century later, let alone now. When we free up the humans from doing tedious tasks and offload that to computers, that allows us to focus on more interesting, complex problems. I wouldn’t say I’m an eternal optimist, but at the same time it’s nice for talks like this to knock some perspective into me every once in a while. Still, I’m going to cling to the positive in this case, because doing otherwise leads to a dark future that I’d struggle to live with.

The last part of the actual conference was the round of lightning talks, it was my time to hop up on stage! Admittedly, I’d been talking about mainframes to anyone who would listen all day, but the big stage was a nice chance to get spiel out to everyone who stayed long enough for them. Plus, I got to use a few moments of my talk time to gush about coming back to CPOSC after over a decade.

Sadly, I had to rush out as soon as I finished my talk, since I had a train to catch back to Philadelphia. I lucked out on timing though, since it started drizzling just as I got to the station, and the thunderstorm began while I was standing on the platform waiting for the train.

The thunderstorm really picked up steam while I was riding back, and it was glorious. I had a paper book in hand and listening to a storm while on a train is pure bliss. Unfortunately the storm also caused some power outages, which got us stuck for a bit in downtown Philadelphia, and so I was over an hour late coming into the next station, which should have been about 20 minutes from there. Plus, Uber had surge pricing due to lots of people being stuck in the rain, so my ride home from the station was quite a bit more pricey than I had anticipated. Still, I arrived back in time to scoop the boys out of the bath and help put them to bed. It was a long day, but worth it.

It’ll be several months before my next generalist open source conference. The pandemic is not over, and I doubt my travel schedule will go back to what it was pre-pandemic any time soon. A lot has changed with the world and the work I do in the past three years.

Crafts, goats, and the rest of our March visit to Philly Fri, 21 Apr 2023 04:19:43 +0000 I had a delightful time at the typewriter shop while we were in Philly, but unfortunately the two subsequent weeks didn’t go as planned. We all ended up dreadfully sick, with fevers, coughs, and it got so bad that the whole family went to urgent care to rule out some of the most worrisome things culprits and see what could be done. Not COVID, not flu, not strep. In retrospect it could have been RSV, but there’s no special treatment for that really, so it hardly matters, we were just sick and needed rest. The really unfortunate part is that it meant we could visit anyone. With an infant in the family and a several older relatives, we couldn’t risk getting near any of them until we were feeling better. So I chugged along working from home and we all did our best to stay happy and entertained until we were better, including doing some art at home!

As an aside, since I was working through all of this, if you hear any recordings of me made in late March, I sound like a bit like a frog!

Eventually we started trending upwards and were able to meet up with MJ’s father, at a park and masked up when we were close to each other talking.

By the end of the second week we were doing well enough to rejoin society, and by then the antibiotics that half the family were on would have done their job and we were pretty confident we were no longer contagious.

Adventures began with Aaron and I visiting a new toy shop that had opened up nearby. I picked up some loose and inexpensive Star Wars toys for him, as he’s really enamored with droids. I also got a few collectible toys for me, and an epic new pint glass.

We didn’t see nearly as many people as we had planned, but we met up with my friend Crissi and her new husband for dinner one night. Then on the final weekend we were able to welcome MJ’s best friend and her husband for a visit to get some quality time with us and the boys. We spent the final Sunday we were in town with them, and took the boys to a little local hobby farm where the boys could see and pet some animals, and Aaron even got a pony ride! It was a great find, we’ll have to go back with some of their cousins, but we got lucky that day since it was by appointment only and they happened to have a cancellation that freed up a spot for us.

I did also get some time away by myself. On the Friday before we left I met up with a couple friends at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia to see SIX. It was clever and funny, and a refreshing change of pace, since I haven’t seen a musical since before the boys were born, due to both a mix of new parenthood time constraints and the pandemic.

From there, I ended up getting a hotel room downtown for the night so I could hop on a 7:20AM train the next morning to head out to the Central Pennsylvania Open Source Conference, which I’ll write about later. It’s only my second conference since everything shut down in 2020, and my first time back at a generalist open source conference. It felt so good.

A soggy morning at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia

Our trip wound down over the next couple of days with lunch with a friend on Monday and then our trip home on Tuesday. We took a later flight than we usually do just because of flight costs and availability, which unfortunately led to Aaron being a bit more grumpy than I would have liked due to a missed nap, but we all made it through. As a bonus, we missed all the terribly rainy weather in northern California while we were gone, so we’ve come back to beautiful, sunny days.

We went to a typewriter shop in Philadelphia! Fri, 24 Mar 2023 21:24:12 +0000 My new found fascination with typewriters is a bit unusual. I’m a computer-focused tech enthusiast and while I’ve always held a special place in my heart for the mechanical, it wasn’t until I had an old manual typewriter sitting on my desk every day that it blossomed into something a bit more. I don’t use it a ton, but it’s been fun to bond with my little kids over, both of whom love hitting the keys and seeing the result pop up on physical paper. My work repairing my Skyriter has been satisfying and fun, even if it can get a a bit tedious and frustrating too.

When we arrived at our vacation home in Philadelphia last week and I found myself without a typewriter at all, I felt a bit of sadness. But then I thought about it, surely there are typewriter stores in Philadelphia! Yep, there are two of them.

I decided to make plans to go to W.P.M. Typewriter Shop because I was charmed by their website and intrigued by their typewriter garden (which isn’t open until spring time, so we’ll have to go back when it’s warmer). Adam has been enjoying this typewriter journey with me, so the first Saturday we were in town I called ahead to make an appointment so we could explore the shop and get some help selecting a typewriter.

Shop owner Pamela Rogow was a delight to explore with. I admit my guidance to her was rather limited, but she knew where I was starting from and that I wanted something sturdy that Adam could type on. With that in mind we made our way through probably a dozen typewriters. I had my reservations about an electric typewriter, but we decided to try one since they are a lot easier to type on. She showed Adam around some of the keys and functions and then let him type away.

I actually would have liked this one a lot, and it would fit in with my crew of Smith-Corona typewriters. Alas, even though it was easy for Adam to use, the dull electronic buzz of it just being turned on annoyed him. Back to trying manuals!

She was incredibly patient as we made our way through the collection. We tried portables and standards, newer ones and older ones.

At one point, Adam decided it was his mission to locate and try every bell she had floating around the shop, which was pretty amusing. I’m glad he was having fun between typewriter demos.

I really wanted to be happier with one of the portables, but they were on the harder side for Adam to type on. He ended up being drawn to a wide-carriage 1946 Remington KMC with a ten-key tabulator, and once he decided upon this one, there was no dissuading him. This was our typewriter!

It’s really quite stunning, and a lot of fun to type on. As a reference point, it did set me back about $420 once we were all said and done with taxes, but this is what you’re going to have to expect for a professionally tended to manual typewriter. It was nice to learn that they also have a rent-to-own program that’s designed to allow people to try out a typewriter to see if they’ll use it, and bring it back if they decide it’s not for them. But this one is part of our life now, and I’ve quickly gotten the hang of it with the help of the Remington KMC Instructions, it’s great.

Friends, Purim, and libraries Wed, 22 Mar 2023 01:43:15 +0000 Pre-COVID, I’d say the majority of my social interactions came while I was traveling, and I was a bit of a hermit when I was at home. I didn’t see my local friends a whole lot, in spite of the tremendous amount of value I placed on them. Now with things opening up, but my opportunity to travel for work still limited, I’ve been making an extra effort to start building up those local relationships again. I’m slowly starting to see people after what has, in many cases, been more than four years between visits! If you’re counting at home, that means most of these people have never met my kids, or every really seen me in mother mode. I’m still me, but it is definitely a shift.

In keeping with this, my friend James came out to Castro Valley recently for a visit. He’s one of those friends who has kept in touch throughout the pandemic and gently nudged every few months to check on a visit, which is something I’m incredibly grateful for. I haven’t been asking my friends to come down for the whole family experience, but it does make scheduling much easier since time on my own is quite limited. When he offered joining the whole family for brunch I happily accepted. It was really nice catching up and hearing his own journey and stories from pandemic life and work. After brunch the two of us were able to sneak out during kiddo nap time to grab some tea at a local bakery and boba tea shop.

Back at home with the family, we did a light observation of Purim recently. Light because we didn’t dress up or go to any events because we’re still making our way through the maze of preschool era someone-is-always-sick and it didn’t come together. But we did make Hamantashen! Last year I used a recipe that was dairy free for MJ, but I went with full dairy this time because the non-dairy ones quickly became hard after the first day. These ones came out delicious! And Adam was my helper in filling them. Next time I’ll make more of the strawberry ones, since my house has a strong preference for those (even if my heart is with the raspberry ones!).

I’ve started getting out of the house more myself too to get back to coffee shop work some mornings. It’s nice to get out of the house and I’ve been enjoying exploring all my local cafes, and most recently, libraries! There’s a brand new library in the next town over that opened during the pandemic. It’s a beautiful building with lots of places to work, and features a little seed library and a little makerspace! I’ve been a couple times now. My first visit was on my own to check it out and work, and sign up at the makerspace. It’s a free service to the community besides materials and the requirement to sign some forms and complete safety training for the devices. I’m looking forward to trying out some of the machines, and delaying my need for my own 3D printer even further. In my next visit to the library, all of us went and I brought Adam up to check out the seed library, since he’s very interested in planting things this spring. I’ll definitely be adding this library to my list of go-to spots for regularly working though.

What will we do with all those old card catalogs? Seed library!

Work has been very busy, with some big changes happening with my role, in a good way. I’m also writing this from Philadelphia, so we had a cross-country journey to prep for in early March, but we’re getting much better at this. We have a solid checklist for getting ready, and I don’t think we forgot anything this time! The flight also went pretty well, we each took a kiddo and were able to keep them pretty entertained. Traveling with two little kids is still exhausting, and we haven’t yet tackled what it’s like going somewhere that’s not our east coast vacation home, but it’s still a win, and makes me less anxious about the whole process now. Unfortunately, it wasn’t far into a trip when it became very clear that we were all sick, but that’s a post for another time, when I’m feeling better!

I’m now the proud owner of a 1950 Smith-Corona Skyriter Mon, 20 Mar 2023 00:52:36 +0000 I’ve had the book The Typewriter Revolution on my reading pile for a while, but I made my way back to it earlier this year and have put a good dent in it. It’s prompted me to start using writing prompts with my 1938 L.C. Smith-Corona so it gets a bit more use and I have a nice writing outlet. “Unfortunately” the chapter about selecting a typewriter also clued me in to the existence of the Smith-Corona Skyriter. It’s an ultra portable typewriter first introduced in 1949. This is an advertisement that was in an issue of Harper’s Magazine from 1950:

“The Typewriter for for Travelers” Travel tested by American Airlines

This was the intersection of my new found interest in mechanical typewriters and my love for travel. But I don’t need one, I already have a typewriter, and I already have a Smith-Corona!

But the heart wants what the heart wants.

I read about the Skyriter on January 22nd.

I placed my order for one off of eBay on February 21st.

It arrived on February 25th.

See, I showed a tiny bit of restraint! Almost a whole month!

Now, buying typewriters off of eBay is not the recommended route. The risk for damage is incredibly high, and you really don’t know what you’re getting. Plus, I’d never actually tried it out, I was just purchasing it on a whim. The best way to go about it is finding a local typewriter shop and then working with them to see if they can help you find one. It’s going to be A LOT more expensive than the sticker price on eBay, but chances are you’re going to end up at a typewriter repair shop anyway if you don’t have the time, skill, or interest in fixing and cleaning it yourself. Plus, it’s important to support your local typewriter shop!

That said, I decided that with the simplicity of the Skyriter, I did want to take the time, develop the skills, and take an interest in fixing it up for myself. So for about $100 including tax and shipping, a decent looking Skyriter was on its way to me.

It wasn’t in terrible shape, but it wasn’t great either. Out of the box, the type needed alignment, the space bar had to be pressed very deliberately to space, the roller rail seemed a little crooked, and the carriage would stop and require a strong nudge to continue typing.

The first thing I had to do was learn how to remove it from the bottom half of the case, so I hit YouTube and found Removing Smith Corona Skyriter from Shell Body. Which got me on my way. That allowed me to get a good look at the inside for the first time, and do a first pass at cleaning it. This first pass was just with some canned air and gentle wiping with a damp rag. Indeed, this is the only cleaning I’ve really done so far, a lot of the straight up metal components that hold it together could use a good scrub with soap and water, and I need to do a careful cleaning of some of the more delicate parts, including the strikers. I did manage to find the serial number though, and at 2Y-34249 that makes this a 1950 model (thanks again,!).

I quickly discovered what was making the roller rail crooked – a screw that was included but wasn’t in actually place (the metal plate it was supposed to go into, it wasn’t). I put that back in place, but I later had to remove it again when I realized that by “fixing” that I had introduced some new alignment issues. I think I finally got it though.

Then I could test what was going on with why the carriage kept stopping at a particular spot on the page. Turns out, the case was bent slightly, which was even more obvious when comparing it to the other side of the case. I gently bent it back into place with my screwdriver and no more getting stuck!

Type alignment was probably the hardest part, and I didn’t fully get it fixed. I couldn’t find documentation on exactly what you should adjust for this, but based on similar typewriters that I watched YouTube videos on, and a little mechanical fiddling, I believe these two screws and nuts are the key to it:

At least, they seem to be the screws that would have an impact on how far it goes up, and when I made adjustments and then went back to typing, it looks like it was making a difference, and it is an improvement:

It’s not 100% for sure. I need to sort out the remaining text alignment issues since the capital letters sometimes strike higher. The space bar still needs a deliberate press, which takes away from the flow of typing on it. It’s much improved though, and usable in the current state. I’ll see what I want to tackle once I finish the next pass of cleaning. It IS a simple typewriter though. As I gaze into the internals of some of the other mechanical standards I’ve seen, I wouldn’t even want to attempt fiddling with some of them. But this typewriter is a nice entry point.

But is it sky ready? Well, I decided against bringing it along on our trip to Philadelphia this week, and let’s be honest, I probably never will travel with it, but while I had the luggage scale out I decided to see if it was indeed 9lbs and hey! Just under!

I wouldn’t be typewriter-free in Philadelphia for long though, a trip to a local typewriter store was already on my schedule.