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19 Authors and Their Typewriters

In the more than 100 years between the widespread introduction of the typewriter and the rise of the word processor, a great many masterpieces have been produced on the handy office machines. Some of those machines are still around, and some are still in use.

1. L. FRANK BAUM

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author used a Smith Premier model typewriter. The LC Smith typewriter company would merge with the Corona typewriter company in 1926, and is now known as Smith-Corona.

2. ERNEST HEMINGWAY

The Farewell to Arms writer used a number of typewriter models in his career, including a Corona #3, a Corona #4, an Underwood Noiseless Portable, and a 1932 Royal Model P that was later discovered to have photo negatives underneath it (when restored, they showed a young Hemingway with his family at their cottage in Walloon Lake, Michigan). His favorite, though, was a Royal Quiet Deluxe.

3. ORSON WELLES

The screenwriter and director wrote Citizen Kane on his portable manual Underwood typewriter, which had his name and Paris address painted on the case. It now belongs to typewriter collector Steve Soboroff.

4. JACK LONDON

Jack London, author of The Call of the Wild, had a Columbia Bar-Lock 10 typewriter that featured separate keyboards with different characters, which he used during his time as a war correspondent—but it was his second wife, Charmian, who used a Remington Standard Typewriter No.7 to type his (very messy) handwritten prose. "If typewriters hadn't been invented by the time I began to write," London reportedly once said, "I doubt if the world would ever have heard of Jack London. No one would have had the patience to read more than a page of my longhand!"

5. DR. SEUSS

The Green Eggs and Ham author's favorite typewriter was a Smith-Corona portable.

6. MARK TWAIN

Remington Typewriter Company via the University of Virginia Library // Public Domain

Twain purchased his first typewriter—most likely a Sholes & Glidden treadle model—in 1874, then upgraded to a Remington No. 2 typewriter, which was introduced in 1878. He claimed in his 1904 autobiography to have written the manuscript for Tom Sawyer on a typewriter, the first ever manuscript to be typed. But most historians think that his book Life on the Mississippi, published in 1882, was actually the first manuscript submitted to a publisher in typed form. It is generally believed that Twain gave up typing years earlier and had his books typed by an assistant.

7. CORMAC MCCARTHY

Cormac McCarthy bought a light blue Lettera 32 Olivetti manual typewriter in 1963 for $50. On it, he wrote The Road, No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses, and seven other novels. When Christie's put the typewriter up for auction—a friend had given McCarthy another of the same model typewriter—in 2009, the auction house expected it to fetch around $20,000; instead, it sold for $254,500.

8. MAYA ANGELOU

Poet and activist Maya Angelou used an electric Adler typewriter; it was purchased by Soboroff at Angelou’s estate sale last year for $5000. The device was missing its power cord, but Soboroff doesn't mind. “I don’t care about the cord,” he told the Winston-Salem Journal Now. “I care that Maya Angelou touched it.” (Angelou did have a laptop, but according to her grandson, “The only thing she did on the laptop was play Boggle, then, Oprah got her an iPad, and she played Boggle on that.”)

9. TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

The man behind plays like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire used a variety of machines, including a Remington Portable #5, a Smith-Corona, and several models of Olivetti typewriters. You can see pictures of them here.

10. HELEN KELLER

In her 1903 autobiography The Story of My Life, Keller wrote that she used a Hammond typewriter. "I have tried many machines, and I find the Hammond is the best adapted to the peculiar needs of my work," she wrote. "With this machine movable type shuttles can be used, and one can have several shuttles, each with a different set of characters—Greek, French, or mathematical, according to the kind of writing one wishes to do on the typewriter. Without it, I doubt if I could go to college." Later, she used an LC Smith #5.

11. P.G. WODEHOUSE

Wodehouse—who penned around 100 novels, plus many short stories, articles, and even song lyrics over the course of his career—used a Monarch typewriter (which he supposedly hooked up to a roll of paper so he’d never need to interrupt his typing) in the 1920s, then graduated to a manual Royal desktop model in the 1940s. He upgraded to newer Royal models as he continued to write into his 90s, almost until his death in 1975.

12. DOUGLAS ADAMS

Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on a Hermes Standard 8 typewriter. It went up for sale in 2008, complete with Adams’s autograph on the front plate.

13. LARRY MCMURTRY

The author of Lonesome Dove and Dead Man's Walk uses a Hermes 3000 typewriter. "I love 'em," McMurtry told the Chicago Tribune. "I just find that I like the touch. I've never turned on or used a computer."

14. HARLAN ELLISON

Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison started typing between 1949 and 1951 on a Remington portable typewriter his mother bought at a thrift store. He upgraded to an Olympia in 1952, and was known best to type on an Olympia SG3.

15. AGATHA CHRISTIE

Getty Images

Agatha Christie got her start writing on her sister’s Empire typewriter, and after a failed experiment in dictation, she became most famously associated with a Remington Home Portable No. 2. But after breaking her wrist in a fall in 1952, she again was writing via dictaphone and a secretary. But Agatha missed the actual writing process, later saying, “There is no doubt that the effort involved in typing or writing does help me in keeping to the point. Economy of wording, I think, is particularly necessary in detective stories. You don’t want to hear the same thing rehashed three or four times over. But it is tempting when one is speaking into a dictaphone to say the same thing over and over again in slightly different words. Of course, one can cut it out later, but that is irritating, and destroys the smooth flow which one gets otherwise.”

16., 17., AND 18. P.J. O'ROURKE, ISAAC ASIMOV, AND HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Humorist P.J. O'Rourke eschews a computer for an IBM Selectric, though he stressed to Radio Free Europe that he is not a technophobe. "I own a computer. I don't use the Internet very much ... It just doesn't help me very much," continuing,

[T]he ease and speed that one can put words into some sort of permanent state—screen, paper, whatever—does not improve the words that are put there. The real work goes on behind the eyes. And I find, I've used a typewriter for 40 years and so using a typewriter, [it's] simply automatic, it doesn't get in the way. I think [and] it goes straight to the page. I don't have to think about what I'm doing. ... When I try and use the computer I have to think about what I'm doing because I keep hitting the control key instead of the shift [key] and so on and so forth.

Isaac Asimov and Hunter S. Thompson also preferred the IBM Selectric. Asimov kept several in his different apartments so he wouldn’t have to carry one.   

19. DANIELLE STEEL

Danielle Steel uses a 1946 Olympia manual typewriter, which she named Ollie. "I paid $20 for it a million years ago, at the beginning of my career, in a second hand typewriter store. And I love it. I can’t write on anything else, and wouldn’t try," she wrote in a 2011 blog post bemoaning her problems with modern technology:

"I could never even write on an electric typewriter that takes off at the merest touch. And I can’t write on a computer. It just doesn’t work for me (except for email) ... And the thought that a computer would EAT 3 chapters of a book, or all of it, is horrifying to me. So I’m definitely sticking to my ancient typewriter, still going strong (best investment I ever made, 116 books later), which very politely only eats what I feed it. My typewriter’s name is Ollie (an Olympia, a German hand made table top manual typewriter, which weighs as much as I do. It is an incredibly fine machine. And I’m happy to say it’s older than I am)."

In January 2015, Steel was still using Ollie. She told The New York Times that “My favorite place to write is my office, because it’s small and cozy, in any of my homes. I always write in a small room, on my 1946 Olympia Typewriter, but I can write anywhere if I have to—even longhand on a yellow pad. It is a passion and a burning drive.” By November, Steel tweeted that "the typing paper i've used since i was 19, & wrote 146 books on, has been discontinued." It was, she said, like "losing an old friend ... my old typewriter and i are very sad!"

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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