filed in Information Technology on Sep.20, 2008
For a long time I have sort of idolized the typewriter in what it did. It was always ready (ink ribbons notwithstanding), did not attempt to correct you in any way, shape, or form, and was very satisfying to type on. I still have a typewriter at my parent’s house, but it is a hefty piece of machinery, so I never took it with me when I moved to Arizona.
Anyway. I want to make the modern-age typewriter.
Now, this might seem a little misleading. What do I mean by the modern typewriter, you might be asking yourself?
It bothers me that I have to boot up a computer, log in to Windows, then load up a word processor when all I want to do is type out a simple idea, especially when I am out and about on the road. I am not the best handwriter and when the gears start turning, the writing usually goes for much longer than my poor wrist can take.
The end goal is to make a laptop or similar computer turn into a glorified typewriter. One that is lightweight, does not need to be plugged into a wall, has extremely long battery life, and has a few of the trappings that modern-day word processing has (most importantly, the ability to undo/redo, save files, and move about in a given text document). Everything old is new again, and so forth.
If you look at the evolution of text editing, during the rise of computers, more and more features began to be placed into rudimentary text editors, turning them from simple one-function applications into a Swiss Army knife that is now known as a word processor, the most popular of these being a well-known application known as Microsoft Word.
The journey from typewriter to word processing brought several paradigm changes, all of which I think are covered very well in this Youtube video called “Web 2.0 - “The Machine is Us/ing Us”. In short, text and typography have become nonlinear in their design. A person could jump around a document and add content where they wished at their leisure by using a simple mouseclick to where they were before, or by paging up or down on their keyboard. Mistakes could be easily corrected; entire sections of text could be revised at a moment’s notice.
Anyway, the specifics of what you can and can’t do with a computer and a text editor compared to a typewriter are somewhat outside of the scope of this post, but they are still very related.
It was very late at night and I couldn’t sleep, so I was talking with a Linux-oriented buddy of mine, Dennis, about a topic similar to this. I intimated that I wanted to build a distribution of Linux that was, effectively, the new reincarnation of the typewriter. This theoretical distribution would be extremely lightweight and contain little to no trappings of a modern operating system. In terms of requirements, it had to boot up into a simple text editor; it must be optimized to run on a laptop or similar portable device.
Here is a short run-down of the requirements that came up in the discussion:
- Must boot up in 10 seconds or less from a GRUB boot menu.
- Must be able to write to an NTFS partition to a default directory.
- A minimal installation (or portable installation if available) that contains an intuitive text editor.
- Must be fully keyboard driven - no mouse input should be necessary to accomplish any task. Optional, but everything should have a keyboard-only method.
Dennis suggested I check out retrofitting Arch Linux. Stripping the UI to something simple, paring down the drivers, and using simple bash scripting to immediately boot into a text editor environment would probably do the trick. As far as the application that would provide the presentation to the user, PyRoom was brought up. Its design philosophy was very close to what I wanted to achieve.
Anyway, probably after graduation I will get working on this project; I have enough on my plate as it is. Apologies if this got a little too technical or boring.