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Maker Stories

Classic Keys for the Modern Memorandum: Jack Zylkin’s USB Typewriter

May 11, 2012

When I was a kid, my mom had a beautiful old typewriter. I remember carefully inserting bright white sheets of paper, punching those big, round keys, hearing that delightful ding and the unmistakable sound emitted when I pulled back the lever, and the smell of a fresh, inky ribbon.

Although it may not always be practical to type hard copies these days, with liquid paper being more work than hitting backspace and all, just looking at a typewriter does bring happy thoughts to many who have used one, and some who haven’t–but see them in old movies, in antique stores, and on our some of our favorite period TV shows.

Balancing that need to keep an electronic record of our documents with the desire to capture moments in the creative process from a simpler time, inventor Jack Zylkin developed a product that celebrates the best of both worlds–the USB Typewriter.

Delighted by this innovative combination of past and present, I was excited to learn more about what drives Jack’s designs. He happily shared about his inspirations, collaborators, and what’s to come.

Q.) You said that you invented the USB Typewriter as a ‘statement about the disposable nature of modern communication and modern communication devices’. What is it about the typewriter, specifically, that you find so intriguing?

Many people have found that the overstimulation brought on by computers and electronic gadgets, whether it be emails, tweets, viral videos, or other distractions, interferes with the creative process. People dread the boredom associated with being “uplugged”, but without boredom there would be no daydreaming!

While computers and cell phones are increasingly used for consuming media, on a typewriter, there is absolutely nothing you can do except create — it forces you to hone all of your focus and heart onto a single, blank page. Still, the convenience of saving and editing your work on a computer, as well as being able to share ideas and inspiration online, is also an indispensible part of being creative.

With my USB Typewriter invention, I hoped to have the best of both worlds — while writing, you can turn your computer screen off and enjoy a sublime writing experience, directly connecting with a printed page and nothing else. Then, when your draft is finished, you can save it to a computer, edit it, email it, and so on. Even after your work has been polished and spell-checked, you will still have the original hardcopy you typed, to keep as an artifact of your first draft, or to mail to a friend. Hopefully, having a beautiful typewriter permanently on your desk –instead of a computer keyboard — will encourage you to turn the computer off altogether now and then, too!

Q.) You helped found Hive76 in 2008 and designed the USB Typewriter in 2010. How did working with a collective of artists, engineers, designers, and other creative folks influence your invention of this product?

I would never have been able to make the USB Typewriter without Hive76. They not only provided the tools, the parts, and the workspace, but also a group of enthusiastic hackers to encourage me and offer advice. For example, I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to cell phones and such, so I never would have had the idea to use an iPad with the USB Typewriter — that was actually fellow Hive member Chris Thompson’s idea. And the idea to print my own circuit boards came from a class we taught at Hive76 on making your own guitar effects. Ultimately, its just a really fun place to hang out, which gave me that extra encouragement I needed to come there after my day job night after night.

Q.) This invention takes an old standard and connects it with a “newfangled contraption”, creating something beautiful and functional. Are you working on any similar concepts, or is there another modern marvel with an old-school throwback you’d love to see materialize?

I have a lot of balls in the air right now. I try to just sort of make whatever idea pops into my head, so there is no recurring theme to my inventions. For example, I am very close to finishing work on a futuristic new board game with a very cool electronic twist, which I just filed a patent for…but right now I am working on a cheap word-processor that has an e-ink screen. E-ink would be so beautiful to type on — the next best thing to actual paper!

Q.) If you were to write a novel using the USB Typewriter, what would your first line read?

“Blank pages are the best kind. Write your own story. The end.”

Now that’s a statement we can stand behind! How about you, readers? We’d love to see the first lines of your novels. How does your story begin?

Maker Stories

On the Road with Tina Tangalakis

July 19, 2011

Tina Tangalakis, founder/designer of Della and our new tribal print macbook and iPad cases, and two interns traveled to West Africa this month to work with their team in Hohoe, Ghana. Tina sent us a travel update from the road about her latest adventures:

It has been exactly one week since myself, Jenna and Chelsea left Los Angeles and arrived in Accra. Accra is the capital city and heart of Ghana, being home to over 1.5 million people and the cultural center of the country.

After two long plane rides and barely making it through customs, we immediately ventured into the busy fabric markets. This was quite a feat after 19 hours of travel, but I found it the best way to initiate Jenna and Chelsea into Ghanaian life. After all, if they can survive the heat and chaos of the large outdoor markets they can do anything in this country.

This early venture was exciting and an overload to the senses. In the markets we were surrounded by hundreds of colorful textiles. The bright colors and intricate designs were like candy to the eyes. This day we were given VIP treatment at the distribution center of ATL, one of my favorite Ghanaian fabric companies. There we registered Della as an official ATL distributor, giving us access to a giant warehouse full of fabrics to choose from. In the warehouse we sourced new fabrics for our Spring 2012 collection and gathered inspiration for several new designs.

That evening we traveled to Hohoe, the small town where Della is based. This journey is typically a 3 ½ hour ride from the capital, however, our travels took us on an unexpected detour as our driver pulled over to fix the van’s faulty brake pad. For myself this was typical, as broken down cars are a way of Ghanaian life. Thankfully, my comrades were content as we sat on the side of the road, in the dead of night, waiting for our transportation to be fixed.

Once safely in Hohoe, the rest of our weekend consisted of both business and pleasure. Saturday we had a meeting with our head seamstresses and tailors, brainstorming ways to better organize our workforce and prepare for the influx of holiday orders. Sunday we took a bumpy car ride to the Wli Waterfalls, where we enjoyed a tropical hike and swim under West Africa’s tallest natural waterfall.

The work week has been full of ideas, designs and challenges. We have begun working in our newly constructed workshop, fully equipped with electricity, fans (a necessity here) and new industrial sewing machines. One of the more involved projects has been working on new designs for our future collections.

It is very rewarding to be here, working side by side with the women and seeing the impact it has on their lives.

The entire process of building a socially responsible fashion line is definitely rewarding; yet, everyday we face little challenges which can be greatly compounded by language barriers, cultural differences and American work-ethic that is not understood by our employees, who are used to getting everything complete on “Ghanaian Time.”

But through it all, the growing pains are worth it, as the expansion of Della is an exciting process. And, when challenges arise, no matter how different our two cultures may be, the best remedy is always laughter.