Notes on (or at least next to) a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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This afternoon my mom asked me to ride along with her to her dog’s obedience class, since it was in North Scottsdale, a long 45 minute drive each way.  She is working on getting her black lab “Tucker” certified as a qualified service dog, and today class was held at an Albertson’s grocery store, a busy environment with lots of people and delicious smells to serve as distractions for the dogs to overcome.

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“Tucker” as Type

“Bring your phone or something to entertain yourself,” she suggested, “You’ll be waiting a while.”  So I packed up my Canon Typestar 7 portable thermal typewriter, and figured I’d get some cafe-writing experience under my belt.  I decided to travel light and just grabbed the typewriter in its case and a few loose sheets of nice  20-lb cotton-blend watermarked paper.  Spoiler alert: This didn’t work very well.  Thermal wax-transfer cartridges work best on nice smooth plain paper, and as you can see my fancy paper yielded some less-than-fancy results.

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Canons at Twenty Paces: A Thermal Typewriter Shootout

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I wish I could say that this was a three-way comparison review between the three Canon Typestars that I own, but the truth is it’s a 2.5 way review at best. The Typestar 5 (1984) and Typestar 7 (1985) are both pretty good machines, but the Typestar 220 (1992) I found on Goodwill’s online auction site is just plain awful. As Marty McFly observed, in 1985, at least, all the best stuff was made in Japan.

The later 220 had the misfortune of being made in Taiwan, and the quality and construction really shows. Despite having more features on paper, this thing was obviously built down to a price, with corners cut at every opportunity. In fact, mine is totally dead, and I’m pretty sure the fault is in the power supply circuit where the magic smoke seems to have escaped from. But even without turning it on, I can tell that this thing is definitely the Cousin Eddie of the Griswold family. Instead of having its own injection-molded hard case, the 220 has an integrated flip-out handle and a separate keyboard cover. While this might seem like a size and weight-saving measure it is clearly more of a cost-saving measure, as the resulting construction is creaky and fragile feeling.

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The Typestar 5 is also a little creaky and fragile-feeling, but at least it comes in its own hardshell case. Every time you set the 220 down it’s essentially sitting on its “platen”. The shell of the typewriter itself is not at all reinforced despite sharing its function as half of the case. Forget dropping it on the sidewalk, I doubt the 220 would survive stubbing your toe on it in the middle of the night.

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The Typestar 7, on the other hand, is pure class. Before I even looked inside, it was clear that everything about this one was better. It felt better, it was quieter and smoother, just all around well-sorted-out. While the 5 and the 7 look very similar, the 7 is actually about 1/4″ longer than the 5, and just a little bit thicker.

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I picked up the Typestar 5 first, and since they look so similar I was certain that they shared the same case , but nope! They went and injection-molded a unique case for it, at no small expense I’m sure. And while they do have nearly identical SMK-built keyboards, about 95 percent of the plastic and electronic parts are different between the two Japanese models. Everything about the 7 is just a little better than the 5.

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The 7 has a matched pair of beefy Canon-branded stepper motors, one for the printhead movement and another for the paper feed, while the 5 has one tiny little motor for the printhead and a bigger but also generic one driving the paper.

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The fuses are especially puzzling to me. The Typestar 7 has its fuse in a standard thru-hole-mounted fuse holder on the circuit board but the 5 has its fuse up on top of the battery compartment, with black electrical tape covering the wires. What?! Was the fuse an afterthought? They couldn’t find room for it anywhere else? I am confused.

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The 7 uses all top-shelf Japanese electrolytic capacitors (Nichicon, Rubycon, and NEC), while the 5 makes do with no-name generics.

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Even the screws holding the case together are miles ahead on the 7: it uses four identical screws, which are all accessible from the top of the machine, while the 5 has six screws in three different sizes, all of which are on the bottom, and one of which is in the battery compartment! The engineers obviously didn’t want the end user to get inside and see how badly they’d botched the fuse holder.

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In case you were wondering what the Taiwanese 220’s circuit board looks like, well, it’s bad. Despite being the newest of the three, it uses a cheap single-sided board with jumper wires in place of solder vias, and sprouts a thick tangle black wires making poorly-routed connections. Sigh.

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Aah, that’s better! The Typestar 7’s circuit board is a beautiful thing. The big black housing on the left is the font card expansion port, while the optional printer port is hidden away on the right. And what’s that unpopulated IC spot on the bottom left? It’s for an additional ROM chip, most likely for fonts. Since it has one font on board, my guess is perhaps that they had initially planned to include more fonts, but either wanted to sell more font cartridges down the road, or realized that having more fonts onboard would make the expansion slot redundant since there were never that many cartridges available.

Speaking of font cartridges, I was curious as to what was in one. So I opened my Courier 12 card and had a look. What I found was a simple masked ROM chip on a double-sided flexible circuit board. Once I’ve traced and documented all the pinouts I hope to dump this ROM and roll my own custom font cartridges, which could theoretically work on the Typestar 6 also.

Achtung! 1957 Alpina in das Haus!

USPS just delivered my latest irrational late-night eBay purchase – a 1957 Alpina N24 manual typewriter (S/N 107038) with German QWERTZ layout.   She’s a beaut, and everything seems mechanically sound, despite having acquired a few extra scratches due to inadequate packing by the shipper.  It needs cleaned, oiled, and a new ribbon installed, but I just couldn’t resist posting a few “before” pics straight out of the box first.

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“Happy Paws” is no laughing matter…

In spite of its innocuous-sounding nickname,  Ecstatic Omniphilic Paw Syndrome, or “Happy Paws” is a very serious condition that affects a growing number of pets.  EOPS often presents with an inability to keep still, excessive tail wagging, and rapturous dancing on hind legs.  Sometimes the paws may move at a rate in excess of human perceptual limits, with observers reporting the appearance of multiple “ghost” images trailing the movement of the hind legs (Fig 1, Schutz, Sept. 22, 1965).

Snoopy can't stop dancing.
Fig 1: An example of “ghost” images surrounding the hind legs of a male beagle, shown here with noted behavioral psychotherapist and existentialist Lucy Van Pelt (b. 1946-).

The exact cause of this condition is still being investigated, although early studies point to a set complex interwoven environmental, genetic, and socioeconomic factors which are known collectively as “Being A Dog”.    Also, “Being In Love With Everything Everywhere”, although some argue that this falls under the larger “Being A Dog” umbrella and should not be counted separately.