The First Typewriter
The first typewriter I owned was electronic, back in high school, with a primitive word processor that had about 2K of storage. When touch-typing on it, you would type in a word or two, then the daisy wheel would spin into action to attempt to catch up with you. It had a bizarre rhythm that I never really liked, but I didn’t know much different in those days. Sort of: click click click click click hmmmm CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK. Which almost made me want to type a word and wait for it to catch up because otherwise its hammering daisy wheel was out of sync with my thoughts.
The first typewriter I ever used was my mother’s Selectric II when she worked as a secretary for Commerce Union Bank. Now that had a wonderful sound. The constant electric hum harmonizing with the sharp percussive notes of the golfball typehead striking the paper in perfect responsiveness to one’s tapping of the keys.
But other than these two experiences, I didn’t grow up using typewriters. I learned to type on a computer. My first IBM clone (as they were known in those days) did have a tacky keyboard, so I can see how I might have been longing for something more responsive than the bland, quiet keyboards of today. But after my brief encounter with the electronic typewriter and my very error-prone method of typing and correcting, I was sold on the easy, instant editing powers of word processing.
So I didn’t buy my first old typewriter with any intention of using it. The thing just looked cool. Glass panels, exposed chrome, glass-top keys. Design and function meshed in a beautiful way that hasn’t been common in industrial design until perhaps Steve Jobs came back to Apple and started his decade-long stint of making computers pretty.
It was in an antique shop that we just happened to stop in while visiting some friends in Oak Ridge. I think I paid $25 for it. My friend Michelle almost laughed her head off at me the next day when I tripped and fell, scrapping up my elbow but saving the typewriter from damage. The typewriter and I made it home intact and it became a display piece. The ribbon was dried up, so I couldn’t have typed with it if I’d wanted to.
I had a brief glimmer that I might have stumbled on something rare and valuable, but I soon discovered that typewriters are not worth much. Not in money. If you pay hundreds of dollars for any typewriter made in the twentieth century, you’re probably paying for the effort that someone has put into restoring it, perhaps with a hefty ignorance tax. Considering that they were the ubiquitous office machine for eighty or ninety years, it’s almost a wonder that there aren’t more around. When future archeologists dig up our landfills, they may be half dirty diapers and a quarter old typewriters.
Too Many Typewriters
For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a typewriter. Not just any typewriter, but an old one. I’ve been collecting these obsolescent hunks of metal for several years now, though my mania has tapered off quite a bit in the last year.
I love the look of classic typewriters, and the functionality. Most of them have been sitting ignored in attics for at least a couple of decades, and all they need is a new ribbon to start transferring words from my brain to a blank piece of paper. At least that’s true of the manuals–electrics are more temperamental, much like their computerized descendants. But if the power went out forever, those old manuals would keep spitting out the words with only a minimum of TLC.
My Christmas gift from my wife was a desk with a hidden compartment for the typewriter. While digging through the closet to find a machine to test out the hideaway desk, I discovered a typewriter that I’d forgotten about buying. Clearly, I needed to do something with all of these things packed away in the closet. The downside of collecting typewriters is that they are too big to all stay on display. So I decided to take pictures of them, and write up a short description of how they came into my possession and why I give a damn.
During the point of my greatest interest, I joined two Yahoo groups: the portable typewriter forum and Typewriters, both of which are great resources for amateur typewriter repairers and aficionados. Based on the messages on those groups, I realize that I do not have that many typewriters for a collector. Relatively. My thirteen machines are a modest collection. But they are still about twelve too many for a sane person.[Top]
I began playing City of Heroes eight years ago, roped into it by a friend who was much better versed in the MMO-landscape, having started with Ultima Online. I remember watching him playing UO and marveling that he was chopping wood. Since then, I still refer to the mind-numbing aspects of crafting in MMOs as chopping wood.
City of Heroes didn’t have any wood chopping. In the early days, it was a pretty stripped-down MMO, in fact. You were a super-hero beating up bad guys from the very start. Even if they were hoodlums hanging out in crate-filled warehouses (and my god there were a lot of warehouses), at least you didn’t start out by killing rats. You could also create your own costume, without being tied down to whatever crappy gear fell off the rats you were slaughtering. So from the start, you could have an avatar that looked like a hero (or later villain) from their creation. Another groundbreaking technology that came a little later was the ability to team up with your friends, no matter what level they were, so you didn’t have to worry too much about getting ahead or getting behind. This is something that seems so obvious, yet is still missing from most MMOs.
I wasted a lot of time on that game. I could have written at least a couple of novels in the time I spent traipsing around virtual warehouses.
But there were a lot of good times. Perhaps because it was my first MMO, it was a fictional world that felt a lot more real to me than Azeroth or the other fantasy lands I’ve sampled. Though I thought the forums were bad when I was a noob, they look like tea with the Queen compared to the cesspit of the WoW forums. Perhaps most important: It was a great way to share time and a hobby with an old friend (we’re both very old!) who has moved farther and farther away over the years.
Tomorrow, NCSoft is turning off the servers. In the flicker of electricity, a world will die.
I suppose it’s naive to think that something will always be there, especially something as ephemeral as a video game, but it sneaks up on you. I had begun to take it for granted. After many hundreds of hours playing it over the years, I didn’t plan on getting sucked in for any great length again. But I knew it would be around. I could log in and fly around Paragon City for a while, then go back to the real world.
Not anymore. Paragon City will cease to exist tomorrow night. It will leave behind remnants in old YouTube videos and dusty unused wikis. But no capes will flap anymore in its virtual skies.
There are some chances that it will return from the grave. But a true resurrection seems nigh impossible. Most likely, it will be a shambling corpse that will make me miss the real thing all the more.
It may not seem terribly important in this bustling world of fiscal cliffs and foreign conflicts, but for eight years a mostly gracious community formed around a game about being a hero. There are worse things.
So if you think about it this weekend, raise a glass in remembrance of the quiet death of a world.[Top]
Judging from my site stats, I was about the only one to read my last two posts about Babylon 5. I hadn’t planned on writing about subsequent seasons because of that. But I just can’t resist, even if it’s only for my own benefit.
As a reminder to anyone reading this, SPOILERS ahead. And if you haven’t watched my favorite show in the universe, it’s online for your viewing pleasure. Or it used to be. Only first season and a few episodes from second, now. Damn, the best episodes are gone from everywhere online. You can still get the DVDs, of course.
Anyway, I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet. Relatively, anyway.[Top]
And now, after being overly negative about season one of Babylon 5, here’s my mostly positive wrap-up of my re-watch experience. Hopefully, I can explain why I felt in 1994 that B5 would have been a great achievement at that point even if it had gotten canceled after the first season.[Top]
I haven’t had a B5 marathon in something like 8 or 9 years. The last one was during the process of indoctrinating my wife in the geek ways. We started with Star Wars and then an introduction to the Whedonverse with Buffy. Once I had her softened up, I figured it was time for my second favorite thing in the universe (show reference!), and we embarked on a tour of Epsilon 3 and environs. At this far remove, I honestly can’t remember if we watched all of first season or not. I know that we ended with the dramatic finale of fourth season and never finished out the series. I probably haven’t seen the disappointing fifth season since it aired, so I’m hoping to revisit it with fresh eyes and to discover it’s better than its reputation.
So it is time. After struggling through Deep Space 9 last year, I’d been yearning for another look at the real thing. Then this series of weekly reviews of a re-watch popped up on the A.V. Club, giving me the last little nudge.
But before I tear into first season, let me just warn the virgins out there: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. It’s a show that’s nearly 20 years old, so I don’t feel bad for you. Well, I do feel bad for you actually. So I’m going to give you two pieces of advice. 1. Watch the damn show. 2. Skip the first season. Slight caveat to # 2 — the first season episodes “Midnight on the Firing Line”, “Signs and Portents”, and “Chrysalis” will give you a lot of backstory for the buck and are rather good.
So if you haven’t seen Babylon 5 before, go here right now and watch it.
And so it begins.[Top]
A couple of weeks ago, Frontline kept me up late when I got sucked into their four-part expose on the 2008 financial meltdown, Money, Power, and Wall Street. As always for Frontline, it was an incisive examination of the topic, revealing nuances that the mainstream press mostly overlooked. And it doesn’t appear that anything substantial has been done to repair the damage. The government threw (and continues to throw) lots of money at the problem, while any teeth of reform have been filed down by lobbyists.
I, like most Americans, have my own life to live, and can’t obsess about how big money is corrupting our republic. I have moments of clarity like cold water being splashed on my face, then I bury my head in the sand again. (Which means the sand is going to stick to my wet face. How’s that for mixed metaphors?)
Then my wife and I were talking about generational differences last night, started by a seminar a week ago by a rather good presenter speaking about the challenges of teaching to the Millennials/Generation Y/whatever the hell they end up being called. I had a few quibbles with his generational divides, based mostly on my reading of The Fourth Turning many moons ago. Which got me wondering how Strauss & Howe viewed current events, and if they thought things were lining up for the Crisis period that they had predicted.
Neil Howe believes that the Fourth Turning began with the 2008 financial crisis. Makes sense to me.
A comment on that post led me to a blog called the Burning Platform, where the proprietor has written up a very long analysis of the current Crisis in three parts, entitled You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. His politics appear to be a bit askew (from mine [though so are Neil Howe’s]), with a dash of conspiracy theory thrown in, but the vast majority of his points appear sound to me. (Just, for God’s sake, don’t read the comments! 9/11 nuts, crazy fundies of all stripes, and New World Order gold-standard bearers, oh my!)
I’m fairly convinced that the chickens are going to come home to roost over the deregulated banking industry sometime in the next eighteen months. Perhaps appreciably sooner. The news about JP Morgan Chase underscores that these banks are still engaging in risky behavior and are too big and too dumb to stop it. Perhaps when the debt ceiling looms again later this year it will be the breakdown that leads an authority figure (presumably the President) to step forward and take extraordinary measures. I know that it’s cliche to bring up the Nazi’s in totalitarian rhetoric, but I hope that whichever President has the reins then is not a Hitler, or a Caesar crossing the Rubicon, but an FDR, a Lincoln, or dare we hope, one(s) who has(have) the mettle and foresight of the Founders. I worry how Obama will perform in such a crucible, but perhaps the last four years have given him the on-the-job training. Romney thrown into such a crisis I suspect would be an unmitigated disaster, but he has been such a cipher to this point that it’s near impossible to judge what his true leadership would be under extreme pressure.
Being a (more or less) liberal, I think Obama’s stated values (some of which have been compromised over his first term) would be better for the continued health of the country, post-Crisis. But perhaps it will not be this President who will be the great leader who will save us or destroy us during the Crisis, but the next one. After all, we’re probably in this thing for 10-15 more years.
I would like for this to all be conspiracy theory, but historical cycles are clearly real, and the timing looks too convincing to ignore. Must not stick head back in sand…
The good news (assuming Strauss & Howe’s cycles are correct) is that now is the time when we can achieve great solutions to the conflicts of our day and forge a new, better consensus. But no one says it’s going to be easy.[Top]
I think I need a break from Facebook. Hell, I think I need to stop using it entirely. Maybe limited to promotion, if that ever becomes a thing (that works).
“People are stupid.” It’s the mantra of a close friend, and I’d be better served by using it as preventative wisdom rather than disgruntled venom after the fact. I know that people have different opinions and we grow by discussing them and blah blah blah. This is the freaking internet. I’ve been here for over fifteen years. You’d think I’d know what it’s like out there by now. Facebook is like AOL ten years ago. Not your first destination for high-minded discussions.
I’m too weak to go cold turkey. But I’ve got a new (spring? May Day?) resolution. Stop engaging in political discussions on Facebook. Just stop it. People are talking but nobody’s listening. It’s like the stereotypical family Thanksgiving dinner.[Top]
Sometimes I want to found my own religion, but then I remember L. Ron Hubbard. And Joseph Smith. Apparently, you can’t found a modern religion without being cynical or a crackpot.
See, I’ve been reading about Buddhism. Not just recently, but over the past fifteen-plus years since I took a course in college. There’s a lot of kooky stuff in there, like in all religions: karma and reincarnation and celestial Buddhas and magic and demons. But it’s also a religion that meshes fairly well with the secular, scientific modern world. At its core, Buddhism is an agnostic religion, at least when it comes to gods, and its tenet of mindfulness is close to the scientific ideal of observation.
I’ve said a lot over the years that if I were forced to pick a religion, it would be Buddhism. But several things have increasingly bothered me about it in recent years. An old Slate article by John Horgan that I just came across explores some of those conundrums. I could quibble with a lot of his statements, or at least rhetoric. (For instance, saying that karma and reincarnation “imply the existence of some cosmic judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness” seems to fundamentally misunderstand the metaphorical process of karma. Might as well say that the processes of genetic variance and natural selection imply some god-like guiding hand to raise some deserving species to dominance and condemn others to extinction. In the case of both evolution and karma, the key difference from theistic religion is that there is no Santa Claus.)
But as you see, this quickly devolves into theology. That just leads to doctrinal schism and different denominations and to one side calling themselves the High Road and the other side the Low Road.
It’s actually his conclusion that dovetails with the topic that’s been on my mind for many years:
All religions, including Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic wish to believe that the universe was created for our benefit, as a stage for our spiritual quests. In contrast, science tells us that we are incidental, accidental. Far from being the raison d’être of the universe, we appeared through sheer happenstance, and we could vanish in the same way. This is not a comforting viewpoint, but science, unlike religion, seeks truth regardless of how it makes us feel. Buddhism raises radical questions about our inner and outer reality, but it is finally not radical enough to accommodate science’s disturbing perspective. The remaining question is whether any form of spirituality can.
Argh. Again, I quibble with his word choice. “Incidental, accidental, happenstance.” They imply the religious disappointment of a lapsed Catholic asking about the meaning of life. It’s a non-sequitur. Only we create meaning. It does not exist without consciousness. And contrary to our self-importance, there is no evidence that the universe would be any the less without our meaning. “What is the meaning of an apple? Of dirt? Of pavement?” Nothing is incidental, accidental, or happenstance. Everything simply is.
(“Is” demonstrates the insufficiency of English when attempting to capture these notions that are at odds with the some-odd millennia of Western thought. “Is” implies stasis. Essence. The sine qua non of a subject. But what I mean is that, “Everything simply dances. Everything simply changes. Everything simply moves invisibly. Everything simply does what it must do.” That’s a lot of freight for a single word, and “is” doesn’t really carry it well, but we’re stuck with it for now.)
But I digress…
Horgan hits the nail on the head with his last line. Can any form of spirituality be compatible with the scientific method? I sure hope so, because the uncertainty of science is not compatible with the human brain. People seem to need the certainty of religion, or at least the comfort of religious practice. And while science as an abstract, devoid of the personalities that fuel its progress, seeks truth, something in the human mind craves certainty. Buddhism appears to be the only religion that attempts to make peace with the uncertainty of the universe (multiverse?) and of human existence within that often unfathomable emptiness that contains everything.
Yet Buddhism has thousands of years of often unwieldy baggage, so perhaps it is not the answer for modern suffering/ennui/existential doubt/uncertainty. Hence, I wish I could start a new religion, one with no god and one that made people comfortable with the perpetual disproof of the scientific method. I’m uncomfortable with some atheists who seem to deify science and make it into Science with the same sort of unassailable Truths that they decry in religion. Humans need some sort of spirituality that can embrace both the intuition of religious/creative experience and the reason of the scientific method. Without it, I’m afraid that the religious meme, which has been such a powerful thought virus throughout human history, will wipe out the brief flowering of scientific enlightenment that we take for granted today.
Unfortunately, I think I’d be a pretty shitty prophet, so I hope someone else is up to the task. And I hope they’re not a nutjob, fraud, crackpot, or thief. And that the high priests who inherit the new religion aren’t power-mad, duplicitous dicks.
What are the odds? History suggests nil.[Top]