Archive for January, 2011

hello, world. did you just greener?

did you notice anything diferent about this post

im typing this on underwood. clearly im still working out a couple of kinks, like the shift key and the question mark… i cheated above there. but the backspacer works. i also haven;t got the apostrophe calibrated correctly. a couple of keys are also intermittent, but that is likely a soldering or placement  issue. it is also pretty annoying to have to have to look so far over to check my work, as i am still a bit shaky on this key layout. and for some reaason, my a’s like to type twice and my space occasionally declaares itself a u.




and the whole thing just stopped working.

uh…. back to the soldering iron.


Circuitry Assembly: a photo essay

After two 12-plus hour days of work on my beat, I got to work at about 7 tonight with the parts I mentioned in my last post.

To recap



is somehow supposed to equal

A keyboard… the monitor part will have to come later.

Now, before I even got to the first picture of the censor board, I had to insert all of those black pieces in there. You would not believe how long that took. The prongs on the black pieces, seen here

Just didn’t want to fit. So I futzed with that for an hour.

Then I tried a soldering iron that was laying around in the garage on a test piece, and it wasn’t nearly precise enough. So trip to Home Depot 1: Soldering iron and fine electrical solder.

welcome to my Thursday night

If I had to guess, I’d say I made close to 200 tiny little solders tonight. I think I have burns on seven fingers, mostly because I’m a moron.

Now, the one thing doesn’t tell you, is that the “feather contacts” that you have to make out of resistor leads, are unwieldy little bastards. You basically hammer the resistor leads so that one end is round and will fit into the solder hole,  and the other end is flat so it can make contact with the underside of the key hammer.The problem is, hammering out metal is not an exact science. Sometimes it bends to the right. Others to the left. Sometimes you get weird skinny bits. Other times, you’ll hammer too far down the lead and you won’t be able to insert the thing into the hole on the circuit board. And sometimes, just for fun, the damn thing will break.

I ended up with this monstrosity, I’ve dubbed “Frankencircuit”

If this thing had a neck, there would be bolts sticking out of it.

Then I soldered the interface board together. That didn’t take as long, and I was feeling pretty good about my soldering abilities for about 2 hot minutes. Then gently stabbed my finger with a soldering iron. It didn’t bleed, but I also discovered the joy of instant cauterization.  Sweet.

In the end, it looked something like this.

Circuits united can never be divided, unless you're solders aren't great.

With my circuits complete, I bounded up the stairs like a puppy whose master has just come home… and broke a solder joint. Back downstairs to fix it…

but then! Nearly 5 hours later…  I came upstairs again, plugged it all in and got this:

Victory! I think...

Sorry for the crappy picture, but it means that the board is assembled and communicating with the computer. Next comes creating my reed switches, which I’m still dealing with, and then connecting everything to Underwood.

I think when the time comes and I’m finally calibrating the keys, I might just die of happiness.


So I left for work at 8 a.m. this morning and got back at 11 p.m. I stopped for an hour, and ended up having a great “interview” in which I talked to a really cool Lebanese guy who is absolute crazy about bungalows (true story).

In any case, I got home from an unreasonable long day, having skipped dinner, and found that my parts had come. I literally sat down and pieced all of the circuitry together. I have to solder it all tomorrow or whenever I find time, but it’s all there.  I’m already noticing some issues that will come up down the road, but I’ll talk those when I’m less cross-eyed tired.

Pictures of the parts to come soon.

A bit of cleverness part one

So I’ve been doing some research, and it looks like this is actually a number 4 instead of a number 5. That makes the machine a bit more rare, but it also has 4 fewer keys, which has become the bane of my existence. There are some clever ways to get around that, but it’s going to take work. For instance…

Note the switch on the top right.

There’s a switch up there on the right, above the rest of the keys. Cool, I can use that. It used to switch between the red and the black ribbon so you could type in 2 different colors.

But there’s a hitch.

When you push it to one side, it stays down there. And any keyboard software will simply reading that as holding down the keyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

So, in order to have all the characters and functions I need, I have to make that come back up when I press it down.


That tab is holding me up!

So I filed that down, and that got me some more freedom of motion, but there was also a point in the back where it was connected to more of the inner workings of the machine.

Cut it out!T

That crescent shaped piece attaches to a rod that runs up to the front of the switch.

So now I have a full free range of motion for that switch in the front. Great. But it still doesn’t return to it’s original position like I need it to.

There’s a simple answer to that problem: Return springs

Springs are awesome

The hardest part of this whole process was getting the set screw on that crescent shaped piece back on the rod (that connects to the switch) at just the right angle so the switch would rest in the right spot. Eventually, with tiny screwdrivers, nimble fingers, a great deal of determination, and an unreasonable amount of expletives, I got it to work

Of course, if I want to make 2 switches out of that red and black switch, and I do, I’ll need to have to springs, one going in each direction, if it is to work.

Long story short:

The two springs force the switch all the way at the front to return to center.

So the two springs basically force the switch into equilibrium, and when you press one side or the other, it gets sucked back into the middle.

There is still a little bit of work to be done because I have to figure out where the reed switches are going to go, but I’ll fill you in on that once I’m installing them.




In other Project Underwood news, I decided to do a little bit of painting to cover up the really badly rusted spots.

I don’t have a great “before” picture, but this is what I got.

Less than appealing

You can see that some of the parts are a little bit rusted and just generally look really bad.

Now, I really like a lot of the metal here. Some of it has a nice patina, an old worn look to it I’d like to preserve. There’s no way this thing is going to shine like the top of the Chrysler building because there is some damage to the paint. Plus, I think the metal adds a nice look so it’s not all black.

In the end, I brought back what I could with some carefully applied naval jelly, and painted the things that didn’t come back.

Take a look.

If I did it right, you can't really tell what I painted.

I didn’t want the thing to look shiny, new and all black, but I didn’t want it to look like something I pulled out of a barn and threw some electronics into. Hopefully, I pulled it off.


How do I post that thing across the top of EVERYTHING?

So I got this thing out and immediately started just typing. Thoughts, what I was hearing on TV. Everything. To my amazement, the more I typed, the better it worked. I even got the bell to ding, which eBay said would not work.

The first order of business was to find out what year it is. To do that, I had to search around for the serial number.

I rant that through a database I found here

I’m 99% certain this is a number 5. Normally there’s a big sign across the front as to what model it is, but in this case it either was never there or it has worn off.

I was floored when I realized how old this thing was. 1910. Underwood just celebrated it’s 101st birthday. I was flabberstounded.

My last long post was me fretting about the keys. It was missing the keys a modern keyboard uses for punctuation I use every day. Where would I find the quotation marks? and the apostrophe? and the ? ?

If you noticed in my last post, I was bemoaning having a carrot for my shift+6 instead of something useful, and wanted to change them around.

It turns out underwood was one step ahead of me.

Back in the day, apparently keys were scarce, and they didn’t have one of these:@. So that was your quotation mark. Back in the day, you had to have a physical imprint to hit the paper, so it couldn’t differentiate a hyphen and a dash for you, so the shift+ 6 was an m dash (It was called that because it took up the same space as an m, today it’s just called a dash). They also used capital L as 1, and capital o as 0. That left 0 key up there for the n dash (today known as a hyphen) and the closing parenthesis. And clearly, an apostrophe is way more important than an asterisk.

Okay, but that still leaves all of the characters to the right of your m, l and p.

Imagine actually trying to use this.

Well, there they are. They’re all out of order, but the important ones exist. If I’m not mistaken, however, you’d need to hit shift key every time you ended a sentence.

Which brings me to my next point. The shift key is HARD to push. It literally lifts the entire carriage up (the thing that moves back and forth with the paper).

You may have noticed the caps lock key is missing here. Except it isn’t. It’s mechanical. Because proper typist use their pinky to hit the shift key, and you have to lift the whole carriage, it was one of the harder skills to develop. The caps lock key was a revelation in it’s day.

But clever ole’ underwood was one step ahead of the game. It’s caps lock is mechanical. The leftern shift key stays up when you press it. There’s literally a a small catch that holds the carriage up. Then there’s a little lever you have to push down to un-capslock the thing. Frankly, it’s a pain in the keister.

While all of this is fascinating to think about the way people used to type, it doesn’t actually help me at all. Sure, Underwood has it all figured out, but my computer doesn’t know that. I’m emailing Jack Zylkin (the creator of USB typewriter) to try and figure this out now. I’m also thinking of getting really clever with the reed switches, including using the unshift lever for something. And the mechanical return lever (instead of an enter key) is really REALLY cool, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to put in the sensor without it being visible.

But that’s going to have to wait until later, because I need to go to sleep.

Holy geek out, am I excited.


It turns out all of my whining and kvetching helped, and the mail gods sent my typewriter to me today.

In the tradition of geekery, I’m going to give you all a proper unboxing. 

I looked at this really closely and realize that the seller actually lost $2 shipping this thing, and that’s before you include supplies.

Exceedingly well packaged (and I’m not even making a self-aggrandizing joke out of that!)

That styrofoam got all over the place. It doesn’t seem to have stuck in the works anywhere. 

Welcome home. You’re already loved.


It’s not much, but I finally got ahold of the seller from Ebay, and it looks like my typewriter shipped on the 10th.  Today was a holiday, and they shipped it parcel post (I saved at least $20 on shipping by agreeing to that) so I’m hoping it gets here by the end of this week. That probably means the typewriter and the conversion kit will get here just a few days apart, and the wait is grating on me.