Typewriter of the moment: Where John Irving birthed Garp

September 19, 2019

IBM Selectric typewriter upon which John Irving wrote The World According to Garp. Photo courtesy of David Armstrong.

Photo from typewriter repairman and aficionado David Armstrong, from a Facebook group dedicated to IBM typewriters.

Armstrong said his client tells the provenance: The typewriter upon which John Irving wrote The World According to Garp. “It was completely worn out but after a complete rebuild my customer couldn’t be happier.”

This year marks 40 years since Garp was published — difficult to believe the time gone by. This may be the last novel I devoured in a day or so.

Irving marks the 40th anniversary at his website, with some somber notes.

This year I’m celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of my novel, The World According to Garp. I remember thinking the title of my fourth novel would change; The World According to Garp was always just a working title until something better came along. I was still looking for “something better” when I delivered the manuscript to Henry Robbins, my editor. Henry, and everyone else at Dutton who read Garp in manuscript form, declared that the title had to be The World According to Garp. I was stuck with it.


More importantly, it is a bittersweet feeling to have only recently written a teleplay of Garp, a miniseries in five episodes, because I always imagined — more than forty years ago — that the sexual hatred in the novel might become dated soon after it was published. Sadly, sexual hatred is still with us — it hasn’t gone away. The suspicion of sexual differences, the discrimination against sexual minorities — including flat-out bigotry and violence — haven’t become the extinct dinosaurs I thought these things would (and should) become.


In part, The World According to Garp depicts the struggles of the writing process — the false starts, the blocks, the disappointments. Yet Garp never loses conviction in his purpose as a writer, “because he knew what every artist should know: as Garp put it, ‘You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.’ Even if these so-called endings and beginnings are illusions.”

There are days I sorely miss my old Selectric.


December 31 is Bright Idea Day 2018, anniversary of the Day the Lights Went On

December 31, 2018

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we celebrate a variety of historically holy days. December 31, by tradition, is Bright Idea Day, the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb, in 1879.

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City (surely not the 2 million predicted by NBC!) tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey – Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more amusing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fluffernutter (regrettably, we note this site is no longer there; but with some hope, we find a new site here)

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Electrification of America, and the consequent spread of electric lighting and electrical machines to make domestic and industrial life more productive, and the spread of great public works to enable these and other inventions to spread, were made possible by a people roughly united in advancing progress, what historians now call “the progressive agenda” and the great advances of the Progressive Era.

Could we get such agreement among workers, corporate bosses and many levels of government today? When we celebrate anniversaries, like the demonstration of the light bulb, we celebrate the united polity that made such things possible, too.

Gee, I wonder who were the dignitaries to whom Edison demonstrated the electric light on that New Years Eve, in 1879. Anyone know? We can safely wager that there were representatives of the Vanderbilts and Morgans there, families who invested in Edison as an inventor.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp. Library of Congress

Thomas Edison’s electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey–The Wizard of Electricity–Thomas A. Edison’s System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Even More:

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


How to tell some troll is pulling your virtual leg

April 13, 2018

The fin de siècle newspaper proprietor / F. Opper. Library of Congress

The fin de siècle newspaper proprietor / F. Opper, 1894, Puck. Summary: Print shows a newspaper owner, possibly meant to be Joseph Pulitzer, sitting in a chair in his office next to an open safe where “Profits” are spilling out onto the floor; outside this scene are many newspaper reporters for the “Daily Splurge” rushing to the office to toss their stories onto the printing press, such stories as “A Week as a Tramp!! Wild and Exciting Experiences of a Daily Splurge Reporter”, “A Reporter of the Daily Splurge Spends a Thrilling Week in an Asylum!”, “An Organ Grinder’s Life”, “Life in Sing Sing – a Splurge Reporter in Disguise”, “Divorce Court Details”, “Private Scandal”, “a Night Around Town” by a woman reporter “in Men’s Attire”, life on the streets “As a Flower Girl”, “Thrilling Exposé”, “How beggars are treated on 5th Ave. by Fanny Fake”, and “High Spiced Sensation”. A notice hanging on the wall of the office states “The Motto of the Daily Splurge – Morality and a High Sense of Duty.” Library of Congress image

You’ve been watching news on TV all your life (you should have been reading your local daily newspaper, too . . . but I digress), and you hate to admit you’re having a tough time telling when Trump lies to you, or someone lies about Trump.

There is help available, for thinking people.

EdTechAdvocate features technology the editors consider useful for teachers and students in schools.

Occasionally school overlaps with real life.

Here are eight apps the publication recommends for teachers and students, to help them use their critical faculties to determine what news is accurate, and what news isn’t. From an article by Micheal Lynch.

No reason we shouldn’t use these tools for everyone, even people out of school for decades.

The recommendations, and links to the eight tools:

As fake news, biased media, and internet hoaxes abound, students need to be taught digital literacy from the time they start using computers. Fortunately, there are resources available for students to check their facts.

  1. All Sides

This site provides balanced news from all perspectives, so students can sort through facts and distinguish between differences in opinions easily. The site also offers a specialized search option where you filter results. Additionally, it offers a school toolbox with a variety of useful resources and lesson plans.

  1. CRAAP Test

Teaching students how to evaluate websites and information is a necessary skill. The CRAAP Test designed by Meriam Library, California State University, Chico is helpful in guiding students through evaluating the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of information.

  1. FactCheck

This website is a non-profit, nonpartisan site which is a Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center allows students to ask questions and search. Additionally, it also allows students to ask science questions on public policy issues.

  1. Hoax-Slayer

This website focuses on debunking hoaxes or urban legends, as well as email hoaxes and internet scams. It also provides information on how to protect your email and computer.

  1. Politifact

Using a Truth-O-Meter (true, mostly true, mostly false, and false), Politifact rates the accuracy of claims. It focuses on politicians.

  1. Snopes

One of the original fact-checking websites, Snopes is a popular site for identifying misinformation and debunking internet rumors. Students can search with keywords or by plugging in a URL.

  1. Ted ED – “How to Choose Your News”

The Ted-Ed video, “How to Choose Your News” by Dan Brown is designed for students. Using imagery and explanations they will understand, Dan Brown explains how to be a critical thinker and savvy evaluator when it comes to reading (or watching) the news.

  1. Truth or Fiction

Another website that focuses on debunking internet rumors, e-mail hoaxes, and questionable images where students can search information as well.

Teachers need to explain how media biases work and change facts to fit their needs. By teaching students to use fact checking tools, teachers are strengthening their digital literacy skills.

Detail from

Detail from “Fin de seicle newspaper proprietor,” by F. Opper, 1894, Puck Magazine. Library of Congress image via Wikipedia

What are your favorite sources of solid information, and what are your methods of determining who is pulling your leg, and who is not? 


Rain and hail on St. Patrick’s Day 2016

March 6, 2018

 

Still from a rainy St. Patrick's Day film.

Still from a rainy St. Patrick’s Day film.

My iPhone made this video from shots I took on March 17, 2016 — better job of editing than I could have done.

Should I let iPhone make more movies?


December 31 is Bright Idea Day, anniversary of the Day the Lights Went On

December 31, 2017

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we celebrate a variety of historically holy days.  December 31, by tradition, is Bright Idea Day, the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb, in 1879.

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City (surely not the 1 million predicted by NBC!) tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey – Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more musing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter (regrettably, we note this site is no longer there; but with some hope, we find a new site here)

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Electrification of America, and the consequent spread of electric lighting and electrical machines to make domestic and industrial life more productive, and the spread of great public works to enable these and other inventions to spread, were made possible by a people roughly united in advancing progress, what historians now call “the progressive agenda” and the great advances of the Progressive Era.

Could we get such agreement among workers, corporate bosses and many levels of government today? When we celebrate anniversaries, like the demonstration of the light bulb, we celebrate the united polity that made such things possible, too.

Gee, I wonder who were the dignitaries to whom Edison demonstrated the electric light on that New Years Eve, in 1879. Anyone know? We can safely wager that there were representatives of the Vanderbilts and Morgans there, families who invested in Edison as an inventor.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp. Library of Congress

Thomas Edison’s electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey–The Wizard of Electricity–Thomas A. Edison’s System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Even More:

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


President Warren Harding, a voice for the ages

December 29, 2017

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding made a sound recording of his voice, for archival purposes. He died in 1923, succeeded by Calvin Coolidge. National Archives image.

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding made a sound recording of his voice, for archival purposes. He died in 1923, succeeded by Calvin Coolidge. National Archives image.

President Warren G. Harding made a recording of his voice in 1922, for archival purposes. From the photograph it appears the recording was made to a wax or plastic disk. Hypothetically, the recording exists somewhere in the bowels of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).


Typewriter of the moment: Stevie Wonder’s Underwood

December 24, 2017

From Pinterest, The Antikey Chop:

From Pinterest, The Antikey Chop: “Photo of legendary musician Stevie Wonder typing on an aptly named Underwood Rhythm Touch typewriter.” (Is it a Rhythm Touch?)

I actually ran into Ray Charles once, in the Concorde Lounge at Dulles Airport, back in the days when one could accompany friends to the gates. Charles was famous for singing and leading a great band, for great piano playing, and for doing things most people would think blind people can’t or don’t do. Like drive a car.

Should we be surprised that a blind musician would use a typewriter? Is Stevie Wonder a good typist, putting down lyrics so others can sing his songs? Or is this a set-up shot for fun?

There is a series of typewriters by Underwood listed as “Rhythm Touch.” The machine pictured may well be one. Can anyone tell? The image seems to have originated from Greg Fudacz at the Antikey Chop.

The image shows up several times on Pinterest, but nowhere else I can find. Anyone got details on it?


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