Friday, 8 February 2013

Ode to the Underwood: A workhorse in its day

Looking at this sad little machine, I'm realizing it may be time to retire it, or maybe simply use it as a virtual recipe box in the kitchen.
It's only been a year and bit, but my laptop is unreliable. I've had to reformat the hard drive already because of a virus. The keys are not only sticking but the lettering has nearly rubbed off on some of them. I work my machines hard, every day, slamming down on the keys when they aren't working properly, taking my frustration out on them.
I am an impatient ass.
Ask my husband.
The old Underwood, the one I learned to type on, didn't have these problems. You just replaced the ribbon once in a while and it was good to go. People who pecked on Underwoods had strong hands and upper arms, like pianists. Nobody ever complained about carpal tunnel or repetitive stress, at least nobody ever complained about them to me.
Basement museums are full of old Underwoods. They still work. They'll still work in a thousand years if you could get ribbons for them.
I gave up on the Underwood 30 years ago. They were messy and heavy.
They are absolutely ridiculous now.
When I got my first job at the Ottawa Journal, we used both typewriters and computers.
The black screen with strange glow-in-the-dark lettering seemed almost otherworldly back in the days when editors still drank and smoked at their desks and yelled "get me rewrite, schweet-hot".
I've been grateful for a machine with memory ever since. No more retyping, like in university. Computers make some people better writers, some people worse writers. Revision is good in most cases. Not in mine. I don't have the patience to do it, which is why I don't write novels.
Back in the early 80s, computers were still bulky, remember?
And you actually had to know computer commands, F this and F that.
Which was pretty much what was mumbled under the breath of frustrated writers when their work suddenly disappeared.
I was excited to get my first "portable", something called a Kaypro.

By the time the Kaypro came out, I had already ended my journalism career, having watched my beloved Journal become one of the first victims of convergence. At 25, I was a political consultant working in offices on the Hill and dragging my Kaypro, all 30 pounds of it, on a dolley down Sparks Street Mall.
People were impressed, let me tell you.
My best memory of those days was a job working on a federal budget. I was given Marc Lalonde's office  -- his actually friggin' office, with a bathroom and everything -- where I set up my Kaypro and looked over Parliament Hill while all the other big wigs were working on typewriters in the supply room. I'm convinced the Kaypro got me the posh digs since it was too big to be placed anywhere else.
During my speechwriting days, I always had two computers in case one failed. Computers were always breaking in the 80s and 90s. Unlike my friends in the govenrment, I didn't have high priced IT guys, so backups were essential.
Those were the glory days of my computing. Six figure salaries, a posh home office, ten thousand dollars worth of hardware and office furniture.
Gosh, it takes me back.
Not like now.
Now I just have this piece of shit HP laptop and a fifty dollar printer. My basement is littered with old monitors and hard drives, ones that have long ceased being useful.
This month, I am taking a leap into another world, the world of Apple.
My health depends on it.
You see, thanks to years of pecking, squinting and stooping, I can barely move my neck to the left anymore. So I need a desk top writing tool, one that allows me to look up and forward again.
Like the Underwoods and Kaypros of yore, I am throwing my PC to the curb and getting a beautiful, fancy iMac. They're expensive, I know, but I hear they are worth it.

Macs are workhorses. Their support plan is stellar.
Scott has a Macbook Pro for video editing and even though it's had its battery and hard drive replaced at Apple's expense, it still works like a charm. And it has a keyboard that lights up.
Mine won't be so grand but I can't wait to have a big monitor and an operating system that treats my words with respect instead of freezing them.
It will be a dreammachine.
Just like the Underwood and the Kaypro were in their day.

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