Thursday, October 10, 2013

Outline for the Typewriter Repair Resource

There is a weakness to forming the project over blog posts, as Rob mentioned. It's not as easy to be collaborative here, but we'll try our best. It's a simple enough project.

Will pointed out that this is an attempt to preserve repair knowledge, which it is exactly. I just couldn't find the right words. We have a tremendous amount of information that is exponentially growing, but it lacks good organisation. When a body of knowledge grows quickly, without being consolidated, organised, and maintained, that knowledge has the potential to be lost!
One of the goals of the typosphere is to preserve not only typewriters, but all the knowledge that must accompany them. Why must we do this? Because these machines deserve it! They have lasted this long and will continue to fulfill their original purpose for decades. Try saying that about the MITS Altair 8800. Wait...that didn't really have any useful purpose other than to show that working microcomputers could be built by hobbyists. A better example would be the Apple II. If you were an Apple user in 1980, your computing needs were met with that product. Today an Apple II would be largely useless in fulfilling the computing needs a user demands (whether it was an excellent product or not).
There will be a time in the future when there is nobody left who has grown up around manual typewriters and learnt from the experts about repairing them. That legacy is already disappearing, but it is being replaced with something with the potential to become even greater. The majority of typewriter users now are enthusiasts, and also their own repairperson. Knowledge is freely shared amongst, as it should be.
The idea of a wiki has been brought up, originally last year by Shordzi, and now again. I was on a bit of a typosphere hiatus at the time, so I can't say from experience—but I can imagine that didn't take off because there was not a solid base of organised information from which to create the wiki, and there weren't enough people with the time or inclination to develop it. I'm not advocating re-starting that idea yet—rather, we should keep this as simple as possible. Once the pieces have been gathered together, then a wiki can naturally spring forth from that information base with all the focus on re-organising it into wiki format, rather than having to worry about information gathering.

Ted mentioned the Typewriter Database as a candidate to host and arrange the links. It would be best to get the information sorted separately first, in case the wiki idea is later pursued, saving him hours of work on the website that could be eclipsed within the fairly near future. If the wiki shows no signs of interest, then that might be considered!

There are two possible suggested ways of organising the repair information—by brand and model, or by repair type and subtype. Both have their merits. When I first conceived this project, the main types of repairs I had in mind were the common Olympia carriage problems and the frozen Facits—very machine-specific knowledge. Mike had in mind over-arching repairs like platen replacement and character alignment adjustment. These are less machine-specific operations that can be more easily applied to a wider range.

It would probably be best to arrange the repairs using both methods. Most repairs could be grouped by typewriter. A separate section could group them by repair type. There would be much overlap, but some of the links would be present in only one section. The actual format of the repair entries will include a short description of the problem, and how it is addressed, as well as the link.
I propose that as long as there are no other major suggestions, as it seems best to keep this as simple as possible to begin with, we should spread the word and individually link to our repairs in the comments. I'll wait a day or two for any further discussion, and then create another post to collect the repair links! 
One last thing. We need a better name than the long-winded "Centralised Typewriter Repair Resource", Something concise and meaningful. Of course we could just call the page "Repairing Typewriters".


Scott K said...

I believe that Ted started something of Wiki last year, but it wasn't really used. Instead he turned his attention to the Database project.

The two approaches work different. Ted pointed out that a few tweaks could be done on his page that would allow for repairs specific to models. Actually, I do like this idea - as you could point to a particular model, or just list, say, Oympia SM portables - all, and have it link to all of them.

There's a lot of work there though.

As for the more generalised and over-arching repairs, you can already see a few of those on Richard Polt's resource page.

That said, there's a lot more knowledge out there than just that, and advice on tools and other materials (including relevant discussions) probably do need to be resourced.

Unlike the model specific repairs, Ted's manufacturer-centric database doesn't immediately pose a useful resource.

That said, a repairs database is a good idea but will need a concentrated effort to do right. At this point I think Ted has mostly been working by himself. I think we might need some additional technical capacity.

Rob Bowker said...

Thanks and well done Nick for the initiative.

I think what you are after is an easy to search database of fixes under one roof. Here's my brain-dump on the subject.

If you think of each 'tip', 'fix' or 'procedure' as an 'asset', each can be assigned certain attributes in the form of metadata - the information about the information. This enables it to be found and sorted according to search criteria, as long as the search terms and metadata match exactly.

The crucial first step would be to design a tagging schema for fixes. This could include names of the parts or sub-assemblies common to all typewriters as well as brand names, model designations. Just the same way you might tag a blog post so you can find it again and just the same way that I organise photolibraries for people. What's really important is to stick to precisely written list of tags - dropdowns are useful for this. These, along with a free text description of the 'asset' would mean that retrieving the sought after information could be found.

My only experience with this sort of curation of assets with metadata is offline and for photographs, though the search criteria still work for collections I have hosted on Flickr, for example. It should be easy enough to empathise with a potential 'searcher' to come up with a sound list of search terms which would be meaningful to them. Some meanings may need duplicate tags, such as 'drawband', driving band' and 'carriage strap' for example.

What I'm not familiar with is the means of putting these search criteria in the lap of the searcher. A custom Google search within a website will find html content such as written text, alt text and descriptions for photos as well as the written words of a pdf. I'm not sure how it would cope with typecasts - unless they were suitably tagged.

There's bound to be someone amongst our ranks with the knowledge to at least point in a meaningful direction. I don't know enough about Wikis to contribute with any authority but if you can immerse yourself in the way they work, it sounds like the most appropriate solution - if only because they can be collaborative.

Ted said...

I agree that structure should be sorted out first for a project with this scope. Maintenance format is a priority.

By this, I mean that it should be decided up front if the philosophy will be "centralized" or "decentralized" management - Whether one person will be collecting content (repair articles, photos, videos) at a single point, or if it stays as it is: basically the content (repair articles, photos, videos) is produced on members blogs or personal websites.

Either method has advantages and disadvantages. I have thoughts on this which I'll type out in a separate reply here once I've pondered it a bit. In the meantime, I very much like the fact that a lot of thought and planning is going into this and that people are interested. I will be happy to do what I can to help. (:

Michael said...

Nick, it seems the time is right for this and certainly the technology can support it. I would like to help.

I think a wiki holds the most promise. For one thing, it can consolidate the controversies, such as the pros and cons of WD-40 and Three-In-One. For another, it can cross-reference both the maker and model complications and the general/specific complications as Scott points out and the terminology complications that Rob points out and probably others that will crop up. For another, it can keep up with new developments. Fourth, it can accept contributions from anyone without a lot of moderation energy (jeez, I hope so!). Fifth, it can accommodate links, enabling still more information access. I suggest an FAQ with links to detail pages to get people started, in addition to offsite pages.

I have a background in database work as well as design. Rob is very correct in the need for standard terms and then realizing that at this point the terms are not standardized so that a dictionary of synonyms will be needed. And metadata can be extremely useful when set up right. (Despite the general media's ignorant use of the word as a fancier word for plain data.) I do not have experience with setting up a wiki.

Who will set it up and then manage it? Hmmm.Ted is a great model of how to do it. How much energy do you have, Ted? I dunno.

I have written a fairly complete _personal_ typewriter database that I intend to give away when it is ready. If you would like to, you can be a beta tester. It will probably reveal considerations for the bigger project as well as being useful in your personal collection. (It helps you find a particular typewriter you have with certain characteristics, tracks how much money you are making in your buying and selling, keeps pictures, reveals patterns in your collecting, and, of course, much more.) One thing it has made very clear already is the need for standard and descriptive terminology. That's one thing I would like to help with. If you're interested, contact me at

Let's get 'er done!
== Michael Höhne

Michael said...

Rats! I see I am forbidden to post a simple email address! Sheeesh! Try this:
twdb [dot] twdb {at} gmail (dot) com
and see what it gets us...
== Michael

Bill M said...

I don't have time at the present to put much into this but you are welcome to use anything of worth from my blog.

I would suggest not using many links as sites and blogs come and go and then there are dead links and the resource is lost.

It may be best to get archives of the pages and blogs as needed and have an archive of the information on the site or blog chosen to host the information.

One suggestion for a name: Typewriter Repair Knowledge Base.

Then there are other names as repository, archive, best practices and many more.

One problem I see is choosing a blog or website. There are free of both out there, but then free can be shut down at the will of the providers (example AOL Geocities).

Steve Snow said...

In general I am all for this. I echo Bill in that links to stuff are much less desirable than the info. Quite often (at least in my case) there will be a lot of background or other stories spoken about before getting to describing the actual repair. So I think copying and pasting the appropriate parts of our blogs into the data-base under the appropriate headings would be best. Great work Nick and everyone.

ScottO said...

I'm late to the party, but I say Wiki. It's a flexible resource-light design and great for adding new pages and knowledge (or old wives' tales) to existing pages.

What about having pages by manufacturer, model, etc. but also having general pages, such as technique for cleaning and lubrication, etc. I think there's a benefit to having general principles which can be applied across all (or at least several) machines.

I also suggest having info on repair shops in local areas, plus a strong message advocating taking typewriters in for service or repair. Some people only want to know how to change ribbon or fix a sticking key; besides, shouldn't we be trying to support repair shops?

ScottO said...
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