"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 18 June 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Just Your @#$*ing Type



There oughta be a word (if not a

law) that nails those afflicted

with the fetish for outmoded

technology. Call them

Gilliamites, for the director

who litters his post-Python,

post-apocalyptic movies with the

retooled relics of boomtimes

gone bust. Or just call them

collect - your speed-dial cell

phone will tie up their rotary

clinker for hours, if you time

it right.



Now, there's no need to make a

Federal case out of these tardy

adapters, but surely something

can be done about such railroad

enthusiasts, wireless radio

collectors, classic car buffs,

Casio VL-Tone toy synthesizers,

LED wristwatch refurbishers, and

the admirers of master

bridgebuilder Isambard Kingdom

Brunel (granted, they don't

build names like that anymore).



Still having trouble visualizing

the misty-eyed state of affairs?

May we be so bold as to

re-introduce you to the Tandy

Model 100, then? You'd be

hard-pressed to find a laptop

that generates so many fond

reminiscences. Take enough

commuter flights, and you'll get

used to seeing diehard Tandy

users cackling and pointing at

suckers who plunked down four

figures for now-orphaned,

battery-drained Duos.



We're long overdue for a Susan

Powter of new technology,

shrieking for an end to the

Gilliamite insanity. Any such

infomercial would have to

include among its testimonials

the panoply of downloadable

Apple ][+ emulators now

available, which can dislodge

memories (after some minor

ResEdit surgery) of the days

when Locksmith, Nibble, and

Beagle Bros. utilities were the

budding hacker's requisite tools

and dies.


But lately the most widespread

retro virus is one that instills

in its host an insatiable jones

for old typewriters. Like their

gramophonatic cousins, Remington

portable owners don't mind the

march of progress - so long as

they're at the back of the

parade, looking wistfully back

over one shoulder.



And where else would this virus

start to rot but on our

typefaces? As surely as S

follows A, typefaces are

reliable cultural bellwethers

for the belles-lettres set.

You'd probably recognize Trixie

as "the X-Files font," a blotchy

carbon-paper face produced in

1991 by Amsterdam design firm

LettError. In 1992, David

Rakowski created a rather similar

font - Harting - which became

one of the most popular freeware

faces of, well, ever.



Rakowski's ReadMe files betray

the same goofball sensibility

common to his fanciful type

designs - his fonts are "not

distributed as freeware or

shareware, but as

AreaCodeWare... For instance, if

you live in Vermont, your area

code is 802 and your

AreaCodeWare fee is $8.02." In

short, Rakowski seems like an

okay guy - a little corny, but

not taking himself too

seriously. Yet the road away

from Helvetica is paved with

good intentions, and like it or

not, Harting and Trixie have

become the latest members of the

Overused Font Hall of Fame.

(Previous inductees: Copperplate

Gothic, Arbitrary Sans, and



[Vintage Type]

Five years isn't so long for

Trixie/Harting to jump from

academic conference posters to

Cosmo ads; type trends can take

forever to bubble up from design

houses to the mainstream. There

were at least 18 solid months

for self-satisfied insiders to

lord their advance knowledge

over their peers - and 18 months

is an eternity for today's hype

machine. Plenty of time to sell

one's Insect Bytes social stock

before Graphic Mace's Vintage

Type started selling families of

distressed typewriter fonts

under names like Ebola ("An

homage to five outbreaks of

filovirus in Africa, Virginia,

and Marburg, Germany... Aren't

you just DYING for the whole




Yes, there are developments more

finger-crunching than the fall

of the sashes on our windows of

hipster opportunity. A "Ye Olde

Days" veneer can be applied to

most any furniture, new- or

old-fangled. It's only a matter

of time before they start

setting the Yellow Pages in

Emigre's dowdy take on

Baskerville, Mrs Eaves. We can

only hope that reinstituting

named telephone exchanges

doesn't follow.



Legions of penguin-like

typewriter enthusiasts - small,

tuxedoed, waddling - lurk just

above and below the waterline,

ever eager to argue Dvorak vs.

Universal keyboards. It must be

said that these folks tend to

maintain impressively

comprehensive websites. Daniel

Rehr's The QWERTY Connection

boasts, among other things, an

area devoted to "Collecting

Typewriter RIBBON TINS (wow)!"

Start archiving your Imagewriter

II cartridges for the inevitable

Sotheby's Antique Technology

auctions of the mid-21st




Of course, it's easy for

whippersnappers to rank on the

misty-eyed reminiscences of our

elders from the Bad Old Days. We

just don't remember the times

when zeros lacked slashes, and

when a lowercase "l" also served

as the loneliest number. No

doubt the incidences of carpal

tunnel syndrome were less back

in the days of gas lamps and

buggies, but at least now there

are fewer dead horses in the



Still, we jaded few do have a

related concern - call it the

Shift Paradigm Shift, if you

will. That is: our character set

resources are shrinking. In

particular, the natural wonders

along the top row of the

keyboard have become more and

more scarce due to rapacious

corporate mining. The ASCII set

is all but panned out.



The dollar sign ($) has been out

of commission for some time,

naturally. AT&T coopted the

pound (#) and the star (*)

symbols in the last decade,

investing them with spurious

voice messaging, paging, and

caller-ID functions. And lately

the net has laid claim to !

(UNIX), @ (email addresses), and

^ (emoticons). Even the lowly

tilde (~) and percentage (%)

signs are on the brink of

endangered speciesdom, as

they've become more associated

with URLs than with Spanish

diacritics or the world of

finance, respectively.


Thus, this advice to electronic

speculators who buy up potential

site names in hopes of reselling

them at a tidy profit: corner

the Ampersand market. Take over

the open- and the

close-parenthesis - with extreme

prejudice, if need be. Then,

when that datastream is panned

out, start prospecting further

south on the keyboard, along the

Semicolon, Greater Than, and

Backslash frontiers.

courtesy of Ersatz