Reinking a typewriter ribbon: My crazy experiments

So first I needed some stamp pad ink. I got that at TCF in Canberra. They sell Artline stamp pad ink in 50 cc bottles for about (at time of going to press!) $A6.00 each, which is very reasonable. Most excitingly, it comes in a range of colours — blue, black, red, green and violet. Fantastic. I would like to be able to type in green in particular. I could buy a ribbon, and not for much money, and some nice colours are available, but I’d rather do an experiment first. Now, when I bought my Olympia, it came with a completely dead ribbon. A two-colour ribbon, the customary red and black. It was very dead, though on two nice pressed-metal spools. I also had a nearly-as-dead one on plastic spools. I kept them both for experiments…

A couple of plastic spools.

A couple of plastic spools.

Now, plainly you should always reink a ribbon with the colour it was originally. That would essentially restrict me to reinking in black and tossing out the two-colour ribbons. But the ink is only $6, and the ribbons are useless anyway, so a better idea is to monkey around first.

Reading around the web, it is clear that there are essentially two schools of thought on reinking a ribbon (assuming you are going to bother at all). First, some just say wind it onto a spool as tightly as you can, so that it is a sort of single mass of nylon, put ‘some’ ink on it and let it rest, possibly rotating it periodically, to let the ink spread through the ribbon via capillary motion. The other method talks about inking a stamp pad, laying the ribbon on the pad, laying a weight on the ribbon and pulling the ribbon across the pad under the weight. This on the surface sounds more convincing, but also more effort. And I only have one stamp pad and it is purple/violet, not that that would be a bad colour to have for a ribbon.

So, what I am going to find out initially is: does the lazy method work, and does it work on a ribbon that used to be two-colour but is very dried out? Some articles talk about rejuvenating ribbons using a spray of WD40, but I want to steer clear of those kinds of solvent chemicals for now. That will come along if it looks like the ribbon won’t wet properly.

Anyway, I wound the ribbon onto one spool, keeping it under tension just with my fingers. (Using very dry but two-colour ribbon, so may make a horrible mess.) I started with just a few drops of ink, since I had no idea of quantity, but that did very little. So more and more, but the ribbon was blotchy, as if the ink was not spreading enough. Tried adding a few drops, rotating ribbon a few degrees, and repeating until a full circle. Left ink to spread for some hours. Looked unchanged, as if it had not spread. I am thinking it is the wrong ink — it seems to wash out in water, which suggests it will dry off too fast. This was confirmed when the ribbon that was exposed to air (the bit between the spools, when I put it on the typewriter) was a different colour (blue) to the eye, but when I tried to type on it after a few hours it gave me the same almost-invisible red and black the ribbon had had before I dyed it.

In other words, the ink was drying out and ceasing to do anything except crufty up the ribbon.

So the experiment was dead, except I tried one more thing. Even though I knew the ribbon would not keep, I tried making a wooden frame to hold the spools, placing a well-inked stamp pad between the two spools and winding the ribbon from one spool to the other while pressing the ribbon against the stamp pad with the back of a wooden spoon. Visually, the ribbon looked far more uniformly inked, and when I went to use it right after the test, apart from getting ink on everything when I threaded it on the typewriter, it worked quite well — too dark, if anything.

Hence, I have the following conclusions: If I try this again, I’ll research the ink I use better first (I had read on the web that stamp ink was the way to go, but I assume not all inks are equal). Also, I’ll make an improved version of my wooden frame and use the stamp pad method rather than just expecting the ink to spread.

Next: glycerine.

‘pod’ is an interesting word because it has a two-fold rotation axis.

Live and learn.

Live and learn.


My Fortran rotating star and cost of screen output.

Ignore this post.

Got a Fortran program that does some numerical work and I just have it outputting a single character (‘-‘) to the screen each cycle, so I know it’s ticking along. It looks like this, sort of:

-------------------------------> done
Whoa! Exciting.

Whoa! Exciting. This was made using gifsicle.

But I thought that was ugly, so I’ve got something much nicer now. You know how in some text-based programs the fact that it has not completely locked up is shown by having little rotating bar, made just by printing |, /, -, and \ in the same place one after the other? Well, this is one way to do it in Fortran (note, just a snippet, not a working program):

! declare array 'star()'

       character,dimension(1) :: star(4)     

       star(1) = '|'
       star(2) = '/'
       star(3) = '-'
       star(4) = '\'

!other code...

       do iloop=1,nloop
!content of loop...
       end do

So all that this does is write an ‘achar(8)’ character to make the output backspace, use “advance=’no'” to avoid adding a line return, and use ‘mod’ to run through the four characters in the array over and over again.

‘achar(13)’ also works but only if you want to return to the beginning of the line and overwrite everything.

While thinking about this, I wondered: The loop is fairly big (searches some big arrays, does some calculations, works out an energy in a Monte Carlo simulation, that sort of thing) and so since this starry thing is the only screen output, I was wondering — how much does it cost in runtime?

using Gfortran, with -O2 optimisation. With and without the above ‘write’ statement, times are:


 $ time ./Dom2016G_tests < inputsG 

real	2m50.757s
user	1m57.032s
sys	0m1.616s


real	2m49.191s
user	1m56.895s
sys	0m1.587s

So there we have it, a time cost (looking at the ‘user’ time) of less than 0.2s, and only about 0.1%. So I think I’ll keep it. It looks nice.

Oh, and making the animated gif: I made four little bitmaps by screen grabs from LibreOffice, all the same size, and called them a1.gif, a2.gif a3.gif and a4.gif. Then just this command line (I put loopcount in to stop it after a finite number of loops. –loop and it goes forever…):

gifsicle --loopcount=100 -d 30  a?.gif > star.gif









Deep fried. Dusted with sugar. What else matters?

1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar + 7 grams yeast

Combine the above and let sit for 10 mins until frothy.

2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 + 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup lukewarm milk
Optional: about 1/4 cup softened fruit, small bits. Sultanas, raisins, cooked apple.
Cinnamon/sugar for dusting

Whisk egg and sugar into yeast mixture.

Put flour and salt in a bowl, make a well. Add half the milk and whisk to smooth. Add yeast mixture and whisk to smooth, add rest of milk and whisk until smooth. It needs to be smooth and pretty runny. Sit bowl in warm place with cling film over top and let it double in bulk.

To cook: Heat oil (enough to deep fry) with hot plate on about 1/3. Dip spoon in hot oil, then spoon a blob into the oil and cook to golden brown. Just a couple of minutes should do.

Yes, yes I did use LaTeX to type up a recipe.

Yes, yes I did use LaTeX to type up a recipe.


A different and much more boring kind of recipe.

Copying Librivox files to my mp3 player and getting them to play in the right order.

I don’t know how common this is, but I have an mp3 player, a Philips one in this case, a ‘GoGear RaGa’, which has to be one of the worst names ever. Anyway, when I download an audiobook from Librivox, and copy the mp3 files into a directory on the player (let’s assume I just use a folder off the root directory of the player. On my Debian system it mounts at /media/PHILIPS), they don’t play in the correct order, even when the files have names that list in the correct order. So I don’t know how the mp3 player orders them for playing, but it means that whenever a chapter ends I have to manually select the next file, rather than letting it play through. It is a pain.

Philips mp3 player, GoGear Raga. A few years old now...

Philips mp3 player, GoGear Raga. A few years old now…

One time I copied them over and the mp3 player played all the odd-numbered files then the even numbered ones, so I am wondering if it is something to do with the date/time/second the files were copied, and the way in which I copied the files (say a GUI that does them in some weird order or something, I have no idea). Hence, a belt-and-braces approach:

(1) I named them so they were properly consecutive. Note that 1_name.mp3 will often come after 10_name.mp3 since 0 comes before _ in ASCII value, so it was important (maybe?!) to use names like 01_name.mp3.

(2) Created a directory on the mp3 player and copied the files in the order I wanted them to play with separate copy commands. eg:

cp 01_filename.mp3 /media/mp3player/folder
cp 02_filename.mp3 /media/mp3player/folder

Now, if this is scripted, I suggest incorporating a pause between copies, to ensure that the times on the files are what is needed. For example, I would do an ls command to make sure the files come out in the order needed, then perhaps a script like below, where I run the script from the folder on the desktop computer that has the mp3 files in it:

mkdir $1
for f in *.mp3
  cp -v $f $1
  sleep 2s

so if the script is called copymp3 and made executable (chmod +x copymp3) and in the directory with the mp3 files, then I type:

./copymp3 /media/PHILIPS/foldername

and it will create /media/PHILIPS/foldername then copy a file, wait 20s, then copy the next. ($1 is just the first command line argument given to the script). Now, Linux will sometimes not actually do the write until some action occurs (hence the need to always unmount USB drives etc before removing them), but I have tried doing it this way and so far it seems to work; I can now start playing the first file in the folder and the mp3 player will jump to the correct next file.

I don’t see why a similar method would not work on Windows, just changing the script appropriately for the different environment.


Magical unrealism.

Productive For Whom? The Productivity Commission and Copyright in Australia.

So some months ago the Productivity Commission of the Australian Government released a draft report on ‘Intellectual Property Arrangements‘. The summary of recommendations can, as of October 2016 when I write this, at least, be found here:

It suggests that copyright should expire much sooner…

DRAFT FINDING 4.2 While hard to pinpoint an optimal copyright term, a more reasonable estimate would be closer to 15 to 25 years after creation; considerably less than 70 years after death.

Many books are still valuable properties of the authors at 15 years out. An author writes a book at 25 and loses their own rights to it when still only 40 years old? Under such a recommendation, once a book is 15 years old, the publisher (any publisher?) can make money from it, a bookseller, a wholesaler, Amazon (poor, living-on-the-breadline Amazon) can make money from it, but not the person who wrote it. Madness. At least let them own it until they die. I agree, 70 years past death is a bit generous (is that the Walt Disney provision?) but at least let an author own their own work while they’re alive.

How about this one:

DRAFT RECOMMENDATION 5.2 The Australian Government should repeal parallel import restrictions for books in order for the reform to take effect no later than the end of 2017.

So while the UK and the USA and nearly every other major market in the world has such restrictions, we should remove them, handicapping our own industry. This one does make sense in one perverse way; we have already killed off manufacturing in Australia, and are currently in the process of killing off agriculture, by opening up our market to other countries who do not open up to us. No, of course I am joking; this one does not make sense. It might make books a little cheaper (though I doubt it. I can’t see the handful of big publishers (who such a change would put in an even more powerful position) passing on any savings; I don’t think there is real competition), but it will mean that Australian stories are harder to find at any price. Now, a significant amount of what the report suggests is not unreasonable, but some things are untenable. I wrote a submission to the commission, on the draft report, which I discovered is available freely on the web Please ignore the typo in the second paragraph (winces). Since it is freely available, I reproduce it below, because I can.



May 23, 2016

To whom it may concern:

I’d like to address the issues of copyright and parallel imports, though I am not a commercial author, editor or publisher or working in the industry at all.

Lifting of parallel import restrictions will reduce the number of locally made, written and published books. The case of New Zealand makes this clear, where multinational publishers have closed NZ offices. Since major players like the USA have parallel import restrictions, it is not like we are even creating a level playing field. It may be time to open an international dialogue about PIR, it is not time for self-destructive unilateral action. Unless we like the idea of local voices being even more maginalised.

As to ‘DRAFT FINDING 4.2’, this is clearly a discouragement to create. It is also absurdly inequitable. It may be true that most works have a short commercial life, but this is far from universal. How can the commission simply assume that all books have the same pattern of sales? Many books go through multiple editions over twenty, thirty or more years, especially in technical fields. Successful books by living authors remain in print for decades. Why after 15 or even 25 years is it acceptable for a publisher to make money from a book but not the author? What gives the publisher more rights than the actual originator and creator of the work? This priorities are, well, backwards.

And if an author does not want a book back in print, they need to keep that right, too. An author’s reputation is a major asset. Allowing publication of early, inferior works, or of works that the author no longer believes in, against the author’s wishes, has the potential to damage their reputation and hence livelihood. One can easily imagine a well-resourced publisher putting a non-copyright version of an early work up against a newer book by the same author, capitalising on the publication of the new book, but paying no royalties and possibly muddying the waters and reducing sales of the new book, which after all has to pay royalties where the out-of-copyright edition does not. That is not equitable. Maybe it is or is not a bad financial decision for an author to not allow a work back into print – but it must be their decision.

Just because it is easy to reproduce a work, especially in the electronic age, does not make it right. It is easy to slap a baby; that does not make it right. We download stuff for free all the time, legally and easily. We must guard against the attitude that we should get stuff for free just because it is easy.

Productivity includes ensuring that the creators have a position from which to create, otherwise there is no industry, no productivity. While it may be true that artists and writers are driven to express themselves, that does not mean laws should be changed to make them easier to exploit. If they cannot make a living from their work, they will do it part time or not at all, and we will all be the poorer.

Perhaps the pendulum needs to swing, but in this case it is swinging too far.

Best wishes

Darren Goossens



Shouting at the void.

Brother Deluxe 700T

So I am trying out this old Brother Deluxe 700T manual typewriter. It is is nice condition, and seems to work perfectly well. The bell sounds dull and the ribbon is faded but does feed. The machine works well and it is my only machine with a ‘1’ key (instead of using ‘l’) and an exclamation mark (!). On the other hand, it feels sloppy and tinny compared with the Dora and especially the Hermes, which feels like it was machined from solid lump of steel where this feels more like it was riveted together from pressings. Good pressings, I suspect. It’s in great nick and set me back $20, which is pretty reasonable. I’ve put a two colour ribbon in it, since the other ones have black.

I can’t be bothered inserting pictures carefully, so here they all are:

Brother Deluxe 700T with it's top on. Beige beige beige.

Brother Deluxe 700T with it’s top on. Beige beige beige.


With the top off. Case in background. All plastic but all in good condition. Why is tab in red? Is it dangerous?

With the top off. Case in background. All plastic but all in good condition. Why is tab in red? Is it dangerous?


Some type from the Brother, man.

Text in two colours. The machine produces stuff that looks good on the page, though it feels flaky under the fingers while typing, as if bits are bending and flexing, but everything seems to end up in the right place when the typebar comes down.


My Brother from Nagoya.

My Brother from Nagoya.

Quick wipe with a bit of Jif on the casing, no cleaning of the machine itself required, and away it goes. The case is very plasticky, and looks quite flimsy, so I am quite impressed that it is so intact; I suspect it has not been used very much. No doubt being owned by me will see to it that the plastic lugs and springs and other vulnerable bits get broken. But in the meantime it gives me another unit to, well, put somewhere.

Nagoya B75635279, means was made Feb 1977. ‘JP-7’ model, under the hood.

Conclusion: The type is clear, with excellent contrast and readability. It has a paper stand, an eraser table, 1, 1.5, 2 line spacing, fixed but useful tab stops, a carriage lock (that I cannot get to work, though I can’t see anything wrong with it, so probably it is me), a ‘1’ and an exclamation mark (bang!) and an asterisk (*). I would say the selection of characters is probably superior to my other machines. It feels tinny but actually works very well and is lighter than my other machines (because uses a lot of fairly thin plastic). If results are important and ‘feel’ is not, it is an excellent machine. If ‘feel’ is as important as results, it does not match up with the Hermes. Brand new it would have been a lot cheaper than the Hermes (and it was cheaper second hand as well, though of course none of them cost much) and probably cheaper than the competing Olivetti, though, so I can see why there are so many Brother typewriters around.

This I think shows how clear and well-aligned the type is. The OCT routines I use work better with this than with the other machines I have.

This I think shows how clear and well-aligned the type is. The OCR routines I use work better with this than with the other machines I have (I will admit I thresholded the image in ImageJ because there was some show-through of type on the other side).

Nothing you needed to know, for sure.

So much missing: Miracles of Life by J. G. Ballard.

It’s hard to believe this is the whole story, or even much of it. Ballard generally played his cards close to his chest, and this is no different. It’s interesting. It’s written in his customary pithy, precise prose and the pages zoom by.

The cover of <i>Miracles of Life<.i> by J. G. Ballard.

The cover of Miracles of Life by J. G. Ballard.

A few quotes:

“My mother never showed the slightest interest in my career until Empire of the Sun, which she thought was about her.”

“But bridge, alcohol and adultery are the royal cement that societies together…”

“I had … endlessly experimented with my short stories, which were becoming steadily more unreadable.” (And this is before he had published anything!)

“..,poetry readings were a special form of social deprivation.”

“My children were at the centre of my life, circled at a distance by my writing.”

“The 1960s were an exciting decade that I watched on television.”

The book does explain his characteristic distance, his ability to view the world as a kind of experiment and then extrapolate in a clear-eyed way. It will not satisfy anyone looking for salaciousness, drug stories, or gossip. Though Ballard was the most influential writer to debut in the genre science fiction magazines, SF was only accidentally his jumping-off point — he read some copies of Galaxy and F&SF and realised that maybe venues like that would take his work. Yet only two SF figures are mentioned in the whole book — editors of New Worlds, John Carnell (see also Science Fantasy) (without whom none of us may have heard of Ballard) and Moorcock.

There’s also, oddly, not that much about Ballard, even though it is all about Ballard. It gives a list of influences, and a fairly schematic view of his life. The Shanghai stuff is fascinating and detailed, and must-read for anyone in love with Empire of the Sun or Ballard’s drained swimming pools and abandoned cities, but after that it is… it’s not dishonest. He seems to be saying what he thinks, but only a selection of what he thinks. At the end, I know more about Ballard but I don’t feel like I know Ballard any better.

Written after his diagnosis with advanced cancer, the book is sharp-eyed, economical and polite but unapologetic. Ballard’s voice was to me central to the development of a genuinely 20th C literature, a voice truly of the scientific age when so much literary fiction seems to wish the motorcar had not been invented, let alone the computer. That his biggest-selling book was a fictionalised autobiography says much about us. It is his most comfortable, most conventional work. One can only wonder what readers who liked that and so bought or borrowed High Rise or Crash might have thought.

I consider his best work, whether short (‘The Voices of Time’, ‘Terminal Beach’ and the like) or long (from his first significant novel, The Drowned World) as essential; canonical. This book is neither, it is interesting, an oddly low-key word.

Fascinating, but the tip of the iceberg.



Install HP LaserJet on Win 98

Note: This is a pointless note to myself.

I wanted to install my old LaserJet II on a Win 98 box. There’s only one trick to this; go here: and get the file lj120en.exe (or whatever language) and put it on a USB drive, after installing USB software on Win 98, which I outlined here. Or get the file into Win 98 directly if it is networked, or via a floppy or a CD or whatever. The exe file can be unzipped using any zip program, or you can run it and let it unzip itself. Note that if you can find out which file you need from this repository, you may well be able to use the other files there to install any number of devices. This is just one example; but HP do not keep old drivers on their website, so this is a useful site to know about.

Then just use Settings -> Printers -> Add Printer and click through the various dialogues and tell it to find the files wherever you have copied them to (‘Browse’ button). Then make sure your printer is connected and turned on and has paper in it, and go and see if the test pages works. It did for me.

Why? I have an old PC non-networked and an equally old printer with plenty of toner but no connection to a USB-only modern machine, and I just want to use the old hardware to print out some rough drafts.


Print that.


Look for Briefs.

All I know about writing (is it III?)

Look for briefs.

The blank page is a terrible thing, but a quick look at various online resources (Ralan, Duotrope, whatever) that list open anthologies looking for material will often show up venues that are looking to collect stories around a particular theme. Straight away the writer has somewhere to start — a constraint that offers structure and directs thought. (And if the antho takes reprints, the writer may have something in the shelf they can send, too.) There are also some magazines that focus more narrowly than others, or have a mission or mandate. These include (a very non-exhaustive list):

Not One of Us
The First Line
Expanded Horizons

It’s always possible to arbitrarily pick a topic, but the advantage of working to a brief is that it is set externally and fixed, and it has a deadline, both good things to work within to develop discipline. And unless the remit is extremely narrow, the story should be submittable elsewhere if it does not make the cut. And it can be submitted elsewhere for one very simple reason — it exists.

Anyway, anything that gives a jumping-off point has its uses.


The empty page is a troubling thing.


Metrics. Scopus, Google Scholar, Web of Science and H-index.

When I fire up WordPress is asks me ‘What’s on your mind’. Usually I don’t just bang on about my current bugbear without having a point, but today is an exception.

I’ve been thinking about how people in my field get measured. So, well, I’ll clearly be using google scholar (gs) from now on, since WoS and Scopus (S) give my H-index as 16, but gs gives it as 18.

Even though WoS and S give the same number, they disagree on which papers are inside and outside the band. That’s not a surprise; all sources agree on papers that are well-cited and all on papers that are poorly cited, but there’s the great middle ground where just one or two citations might put a paper ahead of ten or a dozen others.

Metrics are the bane of many a researcher’s life. They vary from field to field, from sub-discipline to sub-discipline. Someone doing work way ahead of the curve will not be cited as much as someone doing routine work on a hot topic. A junior author on a few papers by a big name gets an artificial boost. Some fields publish more than others, but managers may not be able to know this.

Citations per year; the most distressing thing about this graph is that it actually goes bad 20 years... I feel so old.

Citations per year; the most distressing thing about this graph is that it actually goes back 20 years… I feel so old.

One thing I don’t like is an idea that having a lot of low-cited papers should be a negative. Now, yes, I have quite a few, but some of those were written to give a student experience of the publication process; the work was definitely publishable, just perhaps not as exciting as some other stuff I’ve done, but I felt that there was value in both putting the results into circulation, and in getting a student to go through the process of writing a paper (and therefore working out what was important, how to say it and how to illustrate the points they were making), responding to reviewers’ remarks, and so on, through to seeing it in print. Penalising researchers for having a long ‘tail’ will partly mean less material out there waiting to be discovered, and less chance that that student will get a chance to see how the process works.  Conversely, I suppose it might prevent some ‘stamp collecting’ research. But even the stamp collecting is useful — from great masses of routine crystal structures useful guiding principles like the bond valence sum approach to evaluating and predicting crystal structures can arise. It is like crowd-sourcing. The individual contributions may seem trivial, or at least only of very limited appeal, yet the trends across the whole lot put together add up to something important.

Picking winners is always fraught, and the great problem in science management is often seen as making sure that all staff are ‘productive’ when they are very diverse and their outputs are contributions to knowledge rather than material products. So we look at patents and funding obtained and papers cited, all of which work well (or at least ‘badly but not appallingly badly’) when the person in question is working in a large field with lots of peers. Anyone who strays too far off the curve is penalised, and it is very difficult to tell someone who is hewing out real new territory from someone who is achieving nothing; partly because in science one can turn into the other remarkably quickly. As science as a career has mainstreamed, gone from the province of a relatively few gifted amateurs to an established career path, as economies depend on it as a source of new ideas, there is a natural tendency to try to shape it to produce useful outcomes rather than let the useful applications arise naturally from all those clever people following their noses. This is not unreasonable, especially as so much of it is funded by tax dollars; but I do wonder what we’re missing.

Thus ends my ramble.