back to article Typewriters suck. Yet we're infinitely richer for those irritating machines

One of the things we greybeards have a seriously difficult time getting over to the youngsters is quite how much life sucked back in the old days. It's easy enough to look at the bald economic statistics and see that incomes haven't moved up much (for the UK) or even at all (for the US) in recent decades. Yet when anyone who …

  1. Mycho Silver badge

    Fun fact: Columbo's most famous quirk was created by the limits of a typewriter. The people typing up the script forgot to include two lines of dialogue, so they squeezed it in at the end of the scene with the justification that he'd simply forgotten to ask that question.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Makes you wonder if Steve Jobs used to prepare his early keynote speeches ("oh, and one more thing...") on a typewriter too?

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    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Does one have put Liquid Paper on the screen for corrections?

      1. druck Silver badge

        Mark 85 wrote:

        Does one have put Liquid Paper on the screen for corrections?
        There were lots of 80s comedy sketches featuring a typist being given a new computer, and then applying Tipex to her screen.

        1. stairway

          "Liquid paper"

          And using the mouse as a foot pedal

    2. Tcat

      Blue Fingers, Today!

      OH no. Last time I checked,

      Mexican law does not ACK electronic copy.

      Carbon paper is in heavy use there.

      I found out going for a long term visa.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Hurrah! The IBM model M!

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      too right

      I taught myself to type on my mums old typewriter when I was about 17 to around 70wpm. Went to big school and spent hours typing in punch cards at about 70cpm. Then got to work on a PDP11 with some form of stock keyboard for a while. Once in the real world DECVT100 terminals. Back to around 70wpm but then started using all sorts of obscure custom keyboards and slowed down to around 30wpm - which is quite good for coding! And as for tablets and phones...

      However I think it was learning APL that ruined my typing for good!

      Wonder if I could find a vt100 keyboard and type more of this shit....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: too right

        My Mum worked as a legal secretary for almost 40 years until she retired. I remember when I was growing up she used have this huge grey Regal typewriter that she'd sometimes use to do work she'd brought home. I used to play on it occasionally, clicking and clacking about. I think my Dad still has it in the spare room somewhere. I suppose it's all the years of being around her as a kid, watching her type that even though I'm just a lowly sysadmin I can still do a good 60wpm.

        My Mum once took speed and accuracy typing test back late 1980's, she reached something like around 140wpm average sustained over 2 minutes with a 97% accuracy rate. I think it was a Blue Arrow record for a short while!

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Model M

      "Can anybody not speaking go on mute? Someone is typing really loudly"


  4. Jim99

    Computers double in power every eighteen months, BUT...

    my company PC took five minutes to boot-up in 1995, AND in 2015.

    Which figure should the productivity statisticians take into account? An 8000-fold increase in power? Or a 0% reduction in time spent looking out the window first thing in the morning?

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: Computers double in power every eighteen months, BUT...

      The problem is the amount of remote control/management, security and general corporate software bloat that most IT departments deem necessary has more than doubled over the same period. Not to mention the built-in bloat of the OS underneath in many cases.

      Anyway it's productive time, as long as you go and make the tea or coffee whilst it boots.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Computers double in power every eighteen months, BUT...

        Depsite them running at least one application to log everything installed on the system I still get asked at least twice a year to complete a form telling them which machine is assigned to me.

        If companies can't even get little data to be of use to them what chance do they have for big data...?

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Computers double in power every eighteen months, BUT...

          " I still get asked at least twice a year to complete a form telling them which machine is assigned to me."

          I regularly encounter machines (particularly servers) assigned to someone who swears black and blue that he has nothing to do with them and they were handed over to Someone Else 2 years ago and stop sending him notifications about the system drives sending distress calls because SMART has failed.

          Of course he and "Someone Else" never bothered to tell us that responsibiliities had been swapped around and "Someone Else" either doesn't answer mail or responds "Nothing to do with me, sunshine" - at which point unravelling the chain of custody gets to be time consuming. (Switching the offending device off and waiting for someone to scream usually results in landing on the Boss's carpet. Whilst $boss sees our POV on this, the environment is "rather political", so this method of discovering machine custodian is inadvisable)

  5. Charles Manning

    The good old days are gone, thank you!

    In the 1970s/early 1980s I was a real expert at operating a slide rule and a card punch machine. These skills gave me an edge over others. Those days are gone, and I shed not one tear.

    I once wrote a whole compiler on punch cards. A whole box of 2000 cards. I tripped and dropped the bugger down a stairwell and it took be a few hours to get the cards back in order so the compiler worked.

    Possibly the most challenging development environment was when I was working for a company in Cape Town in the mid 80s. Some of the code came in libraries on tape - posted from UK. We did not have the source code (much of which was written is assembler). When we found bugs in the code we'd patch it in place to execute a jump to some spare memory where we had the patch which we entered byte by byte in hand compiled machine code. Once the patch worked, we typed it all out and drew some pictures, then faxed the whole mess to the programmers in UK. It generally took a few voice + fax discussions to agree on a fix, then they'd send us another tape.

    Presentations back then were primitive, but people concentrated on what was important. Maybe a few acetate slides for the overhead projector. Now we have people spending hours and hours making Powerpoints... Is the communication any better? Doubtfully. Is the productivity better? Certainly not...

    Does backspace buy us much? Not always. Sometimes the ability to continuously refine stuff at a low expense wastes so much time.

    As for income? Ok, I was not around in the 1950s, but back then very few people had cars - now one car per person of driving age is about standard. People complain they can't afford all they want, but back then there just was not much stuff to buy, and what you could buy was crap.

    Things like cars were pretty crap. In winter it was pretty standard that cars would not start. A car that achieved 100k miles was a miracle.

    A few weeks back I tried to explain to my 20 year-old-ish kids how crap my university buddy 1960s VW beetle was:

    * It had 6V electrics. If it rained any to turned on the wipers the extra current draw would cause the headlights to dim on every cycle.

    * The petrol "reserve" was basically a lever that went through into the fuel tank. To use the reserve you twist the lever and it basically tipped over a bucket with the reserve petrol in it. If you didn't twist it back the reserve would not work.

    * The back seats were prone to catching fire because they were made from inflammable stuffing and wire springs - with the battery stored underneath.

    * The windscreen washer was a pressurised container that stole its compressed air from the spare tyre. When you needed a spare it was typically flat!

    * etc etc etc.

    Yup, the good old days - you can have my share of them!

    1. Chris Miller

      VW Beetle

      And the heater control was a flap down by your feet that could either be set to 'open' or 'close' (the missus's MG Midget had a similar system).

      1. Ben Bonsall

        Re: VW Beetle

        My spitfire had that... 17GBP optional extra in 1963! (on a 600GBP car...)

      2. Nigel Campbell

        Luxury - was Re: VW Beetle

        You, at least, had a heater. For a number of years I had the joy of driving an ex-army land rover that didn't have any of your fancy luxuries like a heater.

        Uphill both ways etc.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: The good old days are gone, thank you!

      > it took be a few hours to get the cards back in order

      You must have gone for the diagonal marker stripe across the edge of the deck rather than punch sequence numbers in columns 73-80. Unless you had to wait that long for your // EXEC PGM=SORT to be scheduled...

      1. Charles Manning

        Re: The good old days are gone, thank you!

        Sequencing works with FORTAN and maybe COBOL. That works because anything past col 72 is considered comment.

        The compiler I wrote was in PASCAL which, like C, uses the whole 80.

        Yup I did use the diagonal stripe on occasions. We also used different colour cards (useful to separate libraries)

        Libraries were generally a bunch of cards wrapped in paper (the user notes) and held together with a rubber band. Old hands had a bookshelf full of these.

        When you needed to use your matrix multiplication library you'd get the cards from the shelf, add them to the deck, run the program then put them back when you were finished.

        The worst part of using cards was the card readers. It was common for something to get loose and damage the cards making them unusable. Running a few hundred cards through the reader and getting all the cards back with a nick was depressing. If they were not too far gone you could duplicate them with the duplication feature on a card punch machine.

      2. Tcat

        Card striping

        My red marker became my closest buddy.

        Dropping a deck of cards in a chaotic Army office

        Was not very unusual.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Card striping

          All this talk of card decks reminds me of an anecdote about a USA-sourced program which would never arrive in an operable condition at the customer (in france) during the 1960s

          After several attempts at shipping the punch cards, the company assigned someone to accompany the deck to see what was happening.

          As the deck went through french customs, the officer grabbed a handful of cards from it, looked at them and threw them away. It turned out that french law allowed customs to take a sample of anything passing through - this was aimed at making sure produce was in OK condition but being french, they deliberately took parts from everything passing through.

          The argument given by french customs was that several thousand identical cards were being shipped, so taking a few to check what they were didn't matter. Arguing that the entire deck was a single item and what they were doing was akin to randomly ripping pages from a book didn't hold water with the french bureaucracy.

          In the end, the only solution which worked was to ship several decks together and accept that one would arrive trashed.

    3. Peter Simpson 1

      VW Beetle

      I had a '59 Beetle. Total death trap, but I learned much about how cars are designed and how they function, by removing and repairing brakes, engine, electrics, etc, at age 16. I would not have had it any other way. Cost me $150 and I sold it two years later for the same amount. I saw it once again, so I know the new owners got their money's worth. All except for the Wolfsburg badge off the bonnet...I still have that.

      No windshield washer on mine, but the AM radio worked! And I learned that AUF meant down and ZU meant up when trying to figure out how the pole jack worked...clever, those Germans.

      edit: I must add, as I think about it 40 years on, that the '59 Beetle, designed as a "people's car" was a masterpiece of design, for a low cost, manufacturable, basic city car, it was really a work of art.

      // insert Yorkshiremen joke here

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: insert Yorkshiremen joke here

        I don't think I've heard the "insert Yorkshiremen" joke. But it sounds hilarious... do tell.

    4. earl grey Silver badge

      Re: The good old days are gone, thank you!

      And shame on you for not sequencing your cards. Lesson learned.

  6. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge


    This has great potential to turn into one long Four Yorkshiremen thread.

    I'd get me coat, but I don't have one. I had to make do wi a piece of grubby torn.....

  7. Chris Miller

    My first vacation job (1971)

    included the use of a Kodak Verifax 'wet' copier, which involved passing special 'photographic' paper through a bath of developing fluid - Xerox (from the Greek for 'dry') copiers were only just coming into the UK. As for consumables, if you think inkjet cartridges are expensive ...

    1. Chris Miller

      and my first 'proper' job (1973)

      was as a trainee actuary. All calculations were done manually using one of these, it might surprise you to see how fast they could be 'twiddled' once you'd been doing this all day for a month or two!

      Each calculation was done twice independently, and if the answers didn't agree we had to do them again. The results were hand written on a card and despatched via a pneumatic tube system down to the 'typing pool' where they were inserted into preprinted letters. If you needed a bespoke letter, you spoke into a dictation machine that recorded your epic prose onto grooves on a soft plastic disk that could again be sent to the girls (they were all girls) in the typing pool.

      Later in my career, I was twice involved in automating the typing pool - once when we replaced typewriters with dedicated word processors (who remembers Wang?), and a second time when they were phased out as PCs appeared and people started writing their own letters and memos (and, even more daringly, emails).

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: and my first 'proper' job (1973)

        "All calculations were done manually using one of these"

        And about 10 years before that we were using similar Marchants in a statistics course. They tended to vibrate quite a bit. Running a division they vibrated so much they walked along the desk.

        The first thing I did with my first grant cheque was to head along to a typewriter shop & buy the cheapest portable in there for £10. That avoided having to read my own handwriting. I think it's still in the attic somewhere - it shouldn't be because it acquired a dose of woodworm in its wooden case.

        1. Chris Miller

          Re: and my first 'proper' job (1973)

          Supervisors got the electric version of the Munroe calculating machine, but we mostly spurned them because the manual ones were faster in experienced hands. At my first job (see above) there was a comptometer operator and she'd been taught a technique for extracting square roots using a machine that could only add or subtract, which was rather impressive. She was actually calculating standard deviations from test results, but she had no idea that's what she was doing (and if you'd asked her what the square root of 4 was, she wouldn't have understood the question). I recalled her when learning about Searle's 'Chinese Room' argument.

  8. Detective Emil

    O Roneo, Roneo, wherefore art thou, Roneo?

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Running an underground (well close to the ground) magazine at school c/o illicit access to a Roneo machine I can still remember the smell. Come to think about it the quality of our writing was probably much influenced by said smell....

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Running an underground (well close to the ground) magazine at school

        I did that too, although in my case it was a Gestetner machine so none of your lovely Roneo spirit-ink. I discovered that the stencils could not only be used in a typewriter, but even better in a dot-matrix printer. This worked just as well with the ribbon in as out (I initially thought it would have to be ribbonless) so an old dry ribbon was saved for the purpose of reducing the risk of clogging the pins.

        Persuaded the school IT teacher to buy a copy of AMX Pagemaker (later Stop Press) for the BBC Micros and our magazine looked a million times better than the "official" school rag, which was photocopied from pasted-up typewritten slips.

        Eight A4 pages on a double-sided single-density 80 track 5¼" floppy disc and about 20 minutes to print each one onto the stencil. After that though, easily 30 - 45 pages a minute.

        The Gestetner was the church's - the school didn't take kindly to our "journalism".

        All I have to do now is work out how to recover those files from the floppies, which are still in a cupboard upstairs (I did try them in the BBC a couple of years ago and they did work!)


    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Ah, spirit copiers.

      I used to be one of the copier monitors (you know, turning the handle to operate the Banda machine) at school to run off copies from the carefully preserved masters that used to serve year after year from certain of my teachers. You used to be able to tell how many copies had been run off by how faint they were. And oh, the smell. I'm sure I was high some days at school!

      I spent a year teaching at a UK Polytechnic in the mid '80s, and I found it easier and quicker to type up my hand-outs on my BBC micro at home, print it onto a spirit master on a Qume daisy-wheel printer, and then run 40 copies off for the class.

      Using the photocopiers for more that 10 copies was banned because of the cost, and the offset-print service that was supposed to be used had a three-day turnaround time. As a new lecturer, all my material was produced new, and very rarely three days before I needed it. Possibly the most challenging year of my life!

      1. ChrisC

        Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

        My mum was a teacher and consequently a sizeable amount of my childhood consisted of getting to play with all the neat stuff teachers had access to but which pupils normally never got to go anywhere near, or at best only under close supervision and for limited periods of time. Not only did this mean having ready access to the BBC Micro and Archimedes, it also meant being able to mess around with things like those hotwire polystyrene cutters and the Banda copier system. Oh yes, there's a smell to conjur up many happy memories of a simpler age...

        She also used to be in charge of typing up and duplicating the church magazine, so at home we had an utterly gorgeous Imperial typewriter (looking through Google Images, the Model 58 looks very familiar) on which I entirely failed to learn how to touch type but did gain an appreciation of mechanical engineering. With the stencils prepared we'd then relocate to the church itself where the sacred Gestetner machine was housed. Prise open the stencil clamp, line up the locating pegs with the appropriate cutouts at the top of the stencil (I seem to recall it being a rather psychedelic pattern of holes seemingly designed to work with about a million different peg layouts), pop the clamp back down, make sure the stencil is smoothed out over the ink transfer band, top up the ink tank from the squeezy tube of evil smelling thick black goop, load up the paper feed tray with a fresh ream of A4, run a handful of copies through by hand to check everything's OK, then dial in the number required, flick the switch and sit back to be serenaded by the wonderful click-clack-thwooosh noises it made as it ran off copies at a seemingly blistering pace (though by todays standards it was probably quite pedestrian).

        Given how calming I now find the sound of a laser printer running at full chat, I wonder if this is down to my subconscious remembering these similar sounds from my childhood...

        Anyhoo, thanks Peter for reminding me about Bandas, and thanks also to The Reg for yet another article encouraging me to reminisce about the good old days :-)

        1. earl grey Silver badge

          Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

          OMG, I used to run a Gestetner in a former life. What a grand machine. Piles of masters and our machine was a gem compared to the beat piece of shite in another office. Once set up and going I would crank it up to full speed for the rest of the run. That was a good experience and have a beer for the reminder.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

            "Once set up and going I would crank it up to full speed for the rest of the run."

            As with copiers the important factor with bandas and gestetners was the quality and condition of the paper.

            It had to be dry and the curl facing upwards so the pickups wouldn't get fouled. Most people simply left paper laying about once reams were opened (most reams weren't sealed anyway - paper is hygroscopic) and dumped it into the tray any which way up.

            If you stored your paper properly and made sure it was the right way up, jams and output tray incidents were virtually unheard of. Doublesiding was always a dodgy practice without systems specifically designed to handle it.

        2. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

          Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

          hotwire polystyrene cutters

          Is that like a hacksaw handle, a bit of narrow gauge wire and a 9v (?) battery? I think that I made one of those once. Good fun.

          1. ChrisC

            Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

            That was one of them, and there was also a bigger desktop version you used like a bandsaw.

      2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

        Roneo and spirit copiers (aka the Banda machine) were different things.

        As a young lad, I recall my parents getting an electric spirit copier - just the same but it had a motor to do the hard work. Still needed the spirit tank filling, then the little lever pumping to wet the pad or roller, then leave it to soak, and then start up. The first few copies were feint until enough spirit had transferred to soften the ink on the master.

        Where I used to work they had a Roneo type machine. They did several catalogues a year, and since this was pre-Euro, in quite a few currencies. The UK catalogue was priced, the rest came with a separate price list - done on the Roneo.

        This one was an automatic model - looked like a copier, and *in theory* did all it's one master handling. Set the mode to "make master", it would scan the original (just like a copier) and then spit out one copy. Assuming that was OK, you then went into print mode, dialled in the quantity and set it off - at up to 130 copies/minute.

        It had several issues - most of which relate to Tim W's argument about the benefits of advances.

        The first and most obvious is that handling paper at 130 sheets a minute is not a trivial task. This was not a "set and forget" operation - someone had to supervise it so they could hit the stop button when (not if) the paper stopped piling up in the out tray. Once a single sheet failed to land properly, the whole thing just went into "fill the room" mode.

        The second is the process doesn't make collated copies like modern digital copiers. You had to do a stack of page 1s, turn that stack over and do page 2 onto the page, then repeat with pages 3 & 4, and eventually end up with (say) 10 piles of paper. The whole sales dept would then collate these by hand - and it took all week to do several thousand copies of various lists.

        The third issue was a matter of "something didn't work properly". I said that *in theory* it handled it's own masters. That meant unwrapping the old sticky inky one off the drum, making a new one, and wrapping the new one on the drum. It could make the new one OK, but if you didn't manually remove the old one (which was easy and clean as long as you just held the non-inky end) then it just ended up in a horrible sticky inky mess of shredded and jammed master - and no amount of "but I specifically told you to ..." would stop it being *my* fault and *my* problem to deal with.

        Then the machine broke down, and this was in the early days of digital copiers. We got a shiny new digital copier, which also happened to be the printer nearest my desk - nice printer, A4, A3, duplex, folding, stapling, punching, and above all, collating. At first they'd use it as a copier, but I did a little bit of database work so they could select the catalogue & currency, hit print, set the right options and it would just spit out as many copies as they wanted - it just needed feeding with paper, staples, and from time to time, toner.

        It cost more - each price list probably cost around 50p-£1p vs 10p - but it saved hundred of man-hours a year while also producing a better quality. It was also quicker because, while the copier was at first sight half the speed of the old machine - it did all the collating and stapling so the first copy was ready to use as soon as it came out without having to wait for it all to be printed and then collated.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

          Ah, happy days. But you're all wrong. It wasn't the march of technology that killed them off.

          Bandas died out because they won't breed in captivity...

          1. Charles Manning

            Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

            "Bandas died out because they won't breed in captivity..."

            Yup, once they've sniffed each other they're too drunk to get it up.

        2. Diogenes

          Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

          We got a shiny new digital copier, which also happened to be the printer nearest my desk - nice printer, A4, A3, duplex, folding, stapling, punching, and above all, collating

          Fond memories of being one of only two people in the whole company allowed to use IBM3800-3 for 3 months as we were evaluating it. Even fonder memory of attending a meeting where the then VP of Printers said companies normally took 3 years to get from just replacing the line printer to full featured graphs using GDDM - because we did it in 3 weeks - we cracked all the problems in 3 weeks , the rest of the time was spent writing new training & amending the standards & company style manuals, setting up DCF stylesheets and Overlays. As part of that job , I had an IBM AT out of the 1st containers in the country on desk for evaluation. - best fun I ever had in IT.

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Ah, spirit copiers.

          "It cost more - each price list probably cost around 50p-£1p vs 10p - but it saved hundred of man-hours a year"

          Believe it or not that kind of reasoning (it costs more, so we'll make people collate/staple/etc instead) is still with us.

          As a result I'm not allowed to connect the digital copier to the network. People have to print what they want and then manually feed it to the copier.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Kubla Cant Silver badge


      O Roneo, Roneo, wherefore art thou, Roneo?

      Brilliant, and duly upvoted.

      But the final comma is an error. Juliet wasn't asking "Where are you, Romeo?", but "Why are you [called] Romeo?". Most people seem to see the first syllable of "wherefore", and ignore the rest of the word.


      1. roytrubshaw

        Re: <pendantry>

        I resisted the temptation to be pedantic, but I'm glad someone else didn't!

        Now I know I'm not the only one.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: <pendantry>

        I started working in South Africa in the 70s after escaping from Hungary. As a Hungarian I managed to impress a high school English teacher at a party when I corrected the assumption of a local that "wherefore" is not "where" but related to "therefore". We ended up living together for a few years. Despite living with a teacher my English stopped improving after a while and when I pointed out to her a few times that even I noticed some of the mistakes I made, she said she got so used to my typical mistakes that her mind just corrected them automatically without registering an error.

      3. Alister Silver badge

        Re: <pendantry>

        I hate to do this, but it's Pedantry, not Pendantry.

        Pendantry is the art of dangley jewellery...


        1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

          Re: <pendantry>

          Touché. But I think you mean dangly.

        2. captain veg

          Re: <pendantry>


          Someone doesn't listen to Shaun Keaveny of a morning.


        3. The Axe

          Re: <pendantry>

          It IS pendantry. You need to visit Tim Worstall's own blog ( to find out why. Bit of an in-joke.

          1. Tim Worstal

            Re: <pendantry>

            Quite. Polly Toynbee once, in a column asked "And who are you Tim Worstall, you pendant?"

            Meaning that I am something valuable, jewelry, to be kept and treasured by the heart.

            Or something close to a tit.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. gerdesj Silver badge

            Re: <pendantry>

            "You need to visit Tim Worstall's own blog "

            My eyes are still bleeding from trying. You could have warned us about the lime green on grey and I could have dug out the sunnies first.

            1. Pookietoo

              Re: My eyes are still bleeding

              Perhaps the volume of your monitor is turned up too far? I tend to turn everything down from the default settings, which are probably intended to make a screen stand out in a shop display rather than be nice to sit in front of all day.

        4. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

          Re: <pendantry>


          You don't hate it really do you?

      4. hugo tyson

        Re: <pendantry>

        Pendantry? Should be bloody well hung...

      5. Tim Worstal

        Re: <pendantry>


        I'm very happy to see that Polly's typo is spreading in use.

      6. Charles Manning

        Re: <pendantry>

        Since this about Roneo and not Romeo, perhaps it should be

        O Roneo, Roneo, Roneo, Roneo, Roneo, Roneo, Roneo, Roneo, Roneo, Roneo, "clack" wherefore art thou, Roneo?

        The "clack" is the handle disengaging when you got to the required count.

        When I was at junior school the punishment for misbehaving was to do Roneos for the teachers during lunch break. No deterrent for me. I quite liked it and would sometimes come and offer my services for a few hours after school.

      7. Anonymous Coward

        @Kubla Cant Re: <pendantry>

        There's no "called" in Why are you Romeo. She's lamenting the fact that the man she loves is her bitter enemy: the Montecchi (Montagues) were Ghibellines and were at war with the Guelphs, Juliet's people. So it's really an expression of Why is this man I love a Montague?

    5. WylieCoyoteUK

      Still around, but now called Neopost, and they don't sell duplicators or copiers anymore.

    6. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Clement Freud

      I think the "Roneo ... " quote was originally by Clement Freud during an election campaign. He was being interview on television with other candidates. One of them was told by the host that he was relatively invisible in the contest. During his reply to the effect that his team had been round posting duplicated sheets in letter boxes Clement Freud could be clearly heard saying "Roneo, Roneo ... "

      The joys of a classical education.

      1. WylieCoyoteUK

        Re: Clement Freud

        No, as any ex-Roneo engineer will tell you, we used to get that about twice a week.

  9. dogged


    A standard part of a middle class British lifestyle in the 1960s would be ice forming on the inside of the bedroom window overnight.

    Pretty standard part of a tenant farmer's lifestyle right up until 2003 when the landlords decided to sell out from under him and finally put in heating beyond two open fires downstairs to sweeten the deal.

    The thing about a 14th century listed farmhouse is, none of the windows or doors fit and you can't replace them with ones that do. I recognize the impending danger of a Four Yorkshiremen thread (as stated above) but when I was a kid, the ice formed on the eiderdown. Getting out of bed sounded like jumping on a big bag of crisps.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: Heating

      > A standard part of a middle class British lifestyle in the 1960s would be ice forming on the inside of the bedroom window overnight

      Or, indeed, living in a bedsit in the 1990s (and probably even today in some places...)

      1. phil dude

        Re: Heating

        Oxford 2010.


        1. john41

          Re: Heating

          My dad had a hot water bottle that froze in the night - INSIDE his bed (he was living in a farm cottage in Hampshire in the winter of 1963).

          1. Tim99 Silver badge

            Re: Heating


            I was at school that winter and we slept in a Nissen hut. The underground water pipes to the gym froze until March so we also had to put up with sweaty people, fortunately it was so cold that the smell was minimized.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Heating

        "living in a bedsit in the 1990s"

        A Birmingham house I rented a room in, during the early 00's - it had heating, but the landlord wouldn't run it overnight as it "cost too much".

        She also complained about hot water usage if you took more than 1 bath or 2 showers a week.

  10. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Typewriters with backspace

    Some electric typewriters did have backspace; they would remember what had been typed so they could backspace and type the same letter using the correction ribbon. The one I used had a short type-ahead buffer to minimise ink and correction ribbon use. Others had LCD line previews.

    And for those reminiscing over Roneo; I will join them in raising a glass. And also to Banda, which allowed multi-colour print and easy free-form drawing.

    1. ravenviz

      LCD line previews?


    2. captain veg

      Re: Typewriters with backspace

      As a student, I got myself a secondhand IBM Selectric, since no one could read my handwriting.

      It consumed correction ribbon *much* faster than the ink one!


  11. dotdavid

    In my day

    We had to load the dishwasher by hand!

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      Re: In my day

      Wot? Women had not been invented at that time?

      1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

        Re: In my day


        or children?

    2. ravenviz

      Re: In my day

      A cub leader friend in St. Albans (= posh), asked about good deeds they had done in the previous week, one lad seemed very proud to say that he had helped his nanny load the dishwasher!


  12. Anonymous Coward

    Bloody Jurno luxuries.... type it up on your fancy lah-de-dah typewriters.

    Real men had to typeset !

    1. roytrubshaw

      Re: Bloody Jurno luxuries....

      Namby pamby typesetting!

      Real, real men carved their pages ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bloody Jurno luxuries....

        Real, real men carved their pages ...

        Nah, chisels all the way. Reading a novel was a bit cold, though, as it was hard to carry out of the quarry, but it sure as hell reduced the theft of library books.

        1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

          Re: Bloody Jurno luxuries....

          Nah real men (the advanced type) smelted the lead for their presses (run with Mammoth power if you were in the right part of the world)

  13. Nick Kew Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Ice on the inside of the window?

    ... and buckets under the latest leak any time there was a bit of weather. And share a bath 'cos two or three bodies warm the water better than one ... But I don't think that's gone away: now as then the real poor are not the ones who get noticed by the bleeding hearts and champagne socialists, they're the ones who fall outside The System while not having wealth or sufficient income.

    But before going too far in the direction of four yorkshiremen, haven't you missed the robots that really liberated us? All those dull household electricals from the fridge to the vacuum cleaner to, above all, the washing machine, that turned housework from a full-time job to a modest set of chores that fit around a full-time paying job.

    (Oh, and my icy windows stayed fully open, 'cos there was a smoker in the house and it invaded under the bedroom door. The ice was very welcome by comparison. And I was in my mid-40s when I first had a place capable of being kept warmer than that in winter).

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Ice on the inside of the window?

      Ha Joon Chang and Hans Roslin both refer to all of these as "the washing machine" and almost certainly the technological advance that has made the largest difference to modern life. For a start it's allowed the economic emancipation of women.

      It's also the bit that Keynes got wrong. He wrote and essay arguing that by about now we'd all be working only 15 hours a week. And he did get it right that working hours would decline immensely. It's that it was those household hours that did, not the market working hours that we get paid for.

  14. Chairo

    Does it also simulate

    reflecting back keys? I had typewriter lessons in school and for homework we had to write a page each week on a mechanical typewriter. The results of this homework was part of the grade.

    As our mechanical typewriter had the quirk of reflecting after a strike and causing double letters as result, I ended up with a zero grade and a lot of frustration. At the end my mother (a professional typist went to meet the teacher and told her, she wanted to see the face of the teacher, that gives 0 points in a voluntary lesson for technical reasons...

    Anyway, now I'm happy I had these lessons. At the time I was the only boy in the class, though. How times changed...

    1. earl grey Silver badge

      Re: Does it also simulate

      Must be the day for memories. I was the only boy in a typewriting class (other than the instructor), but we were too busy for anything other than the clackity-clack of the various manual typewriters we used. No electrics back then.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Does it also simulate

        Me too... my other fun bit is I'd gotten a TRS-80 Model I over the summer, so I could type faster than anyone in the building, except the principal's secretary, but it wasn't "the right and proper way"

        My teacher would try to correct me, but as I could ace any test she threw at me with time to spare, I wasn't having any.

        My grandfather used to joke about "the Christopher Columbus method of typing: you discover a key then you land on it"

        He could afford to joke however, as his handwriting was IMPECCABLE. I swear to god, a high-end Calcomp plotter could not have done better.

      2. Tcat

        RE: boy in typing class

        Lady teacher, all girls.

        I'm the token boy and left handed.

        For some unknown reason, my instructor

        Held me to a different standard. Much harsher grading than the others.

        I presumed I supposed to be 'better' because of my gender.

    2. swschrad

      heh, almost the only boy in the room

      and one irritating day I whacked the carraige return of that Royal 400, and the unbreakable handle, guaranteed, skittered all the way over to the other end of the room. so jfjfjfjfjfjfjf yo'Momma.

  15. Peter Simpson 1
    Thumb Up


    (should really do this all in UPPERCASE, but I take pity on you all)

    Before I went off to University, the one thing I really wanted, was a Teletype machine for accessing timeshare systems. I managed to find parts of one, and an anonymous, but very kind technician at Teletype's local repair facility built it into a working machine for me...for almost nothing.

    I took it to school with me, used it for 4 years in my dorm room (apologies if you lived below me) and managed to get a job repairing them for the university computing center (this job also came with an unlimited time and memory account on the mainframe!). So, not only did I have a job, I learned how to repair my own machine and never had to worry about trudging downhill in the snow to use the public terminals...all my assignments were completed in the comfort of my dorm room.

    When I graduated, I took a summer job at DEC's Westfield, MA plant. They happened to make "glass teletypes" there, VT52 and VT05. One of the perks was that employees could buy defective gear from the scrap pile. I bought parts and assembled my own VT05 (which required troubleshooting and repair before I could use it) to replace the Teletype. Graduate school was 300 baud time! Fortuitously, the acoustic coupler I had purchased for the Teletype was capable of higher speeds!

    The good old days. I don't miss them, but I sure had fun doing things the hard way.

  16. Phuq Witt

    A Couple of Random Thoughts...

    Thanks for this article. It gives me a chance to divest myself of a couple of random thoughts that have been rattling about in my skull for a while:


    One of the strange things that the invention of the computer keyboard has lead to is that almost *everyone* [apocryphal stories about Luddite CEOs aside] now can type –at least after a fashion. When my mammy was a lass, she actually went to 'Typing College' after leaving school, to earn the various certificates required to procure an office job back in those days.

    The average man [or woman] in the street wouldn't have even attempted to type something on a typewriter, because it was so slow and, if you made a single 'slip of the finger' the document was irretrieveably marred, as correction was anything but invisible.

    What the advent of the computer has done has give us all the chance to bash away at the keyboard like the proverbial 'monkeys writing Shakespeare' but also to repair and correct seamlessly as often as needed. We've kind of all learned to type in spite of ourselves. I've never had a typing lesson in my life but, over years of prodding clumsily away on a computer keyboard have progressed from one and two finger typing to using most of the fingers both hands. By classical type training standards, I'm doing it all wrong. But I reckon I probably average about 40-50 words a minute and with a low enough error rate to make it feel efficient enough for my needs.

    2: Assimilation Syndrome

    It's amazing how, no matter how much technology advances in our own lifetimes, we assimilate the changes so readily and end still end up unsatisfied and looking for the "next best thing".

    I'm not exactly ancient [a kid of the 70s] but if someone had told me when I was wee that, thirty odd years in the future I'd own several computers [one small enough to fit in a pocket] on which I could:

    communicate in seconds with almost anyone, anywhere in the world, get live access to global news, instantly look up and find answers to almost any question across any discipline, watch television, listen to radio, read all my books, store all my photos and music, receive satellite pictures from space, allow me to pinpoint my location anywhere on Earth, virtually drive down streets on cities all over the world, edit my own movies, design artwork, print professional quality documents, etc. etc. etc....

    I'd have thought they were describing life aboard the starship Enterprise, or suggesting that I would one day be the richest man in the world. And yet here I am, those not-too-many years later, in possession of all of that and more but still [like the rest of you, no doubt] covetting better & faster gadgets and moaning & complaining and comparing my existing gadgets to lumps of excrement whenever a download takes a bit long, a wifi connection drops, or an application crashes.

    I wonder what futre Reg* readers will be complaining about, when they look back pityingly on the laughingly primitive tech we had to put up with?

    [*or equivalent]

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A Couple of Random Thoughts...

      "I'm not exactly ancient [a kid of the 70s] but if someone had told me when I was wee that, thirty odd years in the future I'd own several computers [one small enough to fit in a pocket] on which I could:

      communicate in seconds with almost anyone, anywhere in the world, get live access to global news, instantly look up and find answers to almost any question across any discipline, watch television, listen to radio, read all my books, store all my photos and music, receive satellite pictures from space, allow me to pinpoint my location anywhere on Earth, virtually drive down streets on cities all over the world, edit my own movies, design artwork, print professional quality documents, etc. etc. etc...."

      I remember reading about such a device in a 1970s book in 1983. Of course, the book told me that such a thing would exist in the late 80s, and some of those functions hadn't yet been thought possible. The futurists are often wrong with their timing (It's 2015, where's my damn flying car?)

      That said, I found an old paper I wrote for a French class in 1987 predicting the global internet, but alas, also talking about OS/5

      1. Tcat

        1987? We had the Internet

        IIRC, in 1987 my email address was

        Missing was the GUI and hyperlink of Tim Burns-Lee with WWW

    2. Anonymous Blowhard

      Re: A Couple of Random Thoughts...

      "I wonder what futre Reg* readers will be complaining about, when they look back pityingly on the laughingly primitive tech we had to put up with?"

      If any Reg reader in the future finds this thread, and has access to a time machine, could they please add a comment about this.

      Thanks In Advance!

    3. Tim Worstal

      Re: A Couple of Random Thoughts...

      Rings bells:

      "I've never had a typing lesson in my life but, over years of prodding clumsily away on a computer keyboard have progressed from one and two finger typing to using most of the fingers both hands. By classical type training standards, I'm doing it all wrong. But I reckon I probably average about 40-50 words a minute "

      There's no way I could have been a journalist 30-35 years ago. Well, not without learning to touch type at least.

      I'm not perfect by any means today on a computer keyboard but I can happily compose for publication at 1500 words an hour. That's a vast change for me at least.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: A Couple of Random Thoughts...

        "By classical type training standards, I'm doing it all wrong"

        Which is probably just as well. "Classical" standards assume manual typewriters which give support to the fingers when resting. Computer keyboards (and selectrics) don't.

        This is why "classically trained" typists have much higher levels of RSI injuries when using computer keyboards than untrained ones do.

  17. John Savard Silver badge

    Money and Happiness

    Although the old saw says that "Money can't buy happiness", it's well known that a sufficiently severe lack of money virtually guarantees misery. However, happiness is not measured by the amount of fancy electronic toys one has.

    For a man, the most critical single element in his life that determines whether he was a success or a failure is... does he have a woman in his bed.

    Compared to the period 1948-1968 in Canada - with perhaps a later start in the UK and a later end in the US - the proportion of men who are married at different levels of income and education has declined. It's harder to get the kind of steady, reliable employment that allows one to start a family with confidence that one's children will not have to endure poverty at some point.

    Technology hasn't changed the human sex ratio; however much certain material goods have increased in availability (housing, of course, has declined due to population growth) the most critical component of happiness has an intrinsic availability that is constant. And which shows why concern over relative poverty, as men compete to impress women, is valid and not simply an expression of greed and envy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Money and Happiness

      In general, I think, the most important factor for happiness is good social relationships: neighbours, friends and family. Mobility and urbanisation have probably made things worse, on average, in that respect.

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Money and Happiness

      Having a women in your bed and having a family and children are two different things. I'd much rather have a woman to share my bed with than the hassle of kids and a family.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: does he have a woman in his bed

      I'm perfectly happy alone in my own bed (or likely as not sharing it with a cat).. There's a woman in the next room who brings me coffee in the morning, and offers to do my washing. :-)

  18. Ironclad

    Hedonistic Adjustment

    Is there an economist somewhere studying the opposite? Something like Technological Deficit, i.e. the extent to which technological advancement is now making things worse.

    Take the example of the all year round availability of fruit and veg. This doesn't mean life is better if that fruit and veg is rubbish; rock hard nectarines, sour pineapples and strawberries that taste like cucumber water don't suggest a measurable improvement in my well being.

    It could also be argued that we have now reached the point where cars are decreasing our quality of life rather than improving it. The increased journey times, serious injuries and pollution outweigh the

    leather seats and Bose surround sound systems

    Looking at the IT angle I wonder what percentage of the increased performance of computers goes into improving our lives, stuff like medical research, weather prediction, safety modelling etc and how much goes into frivolous/annoying/dangerous crap like casual gaming/spam/hacking.

    Have we passed the optimum point at which technology enriches our lives and we're now on the down slope to where it spoils it ?


    I'm off to the Great British Beer Festival for some fine ales.

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Hedonistic Adjustment

      Good question. I don't know of any serious studies on this. There's the usual dyspeptics (Monbiot etc) bt formal studies?

      Would be interesting if anyone's got any hints.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Chuunen Baka


    The main thing about using an old-fashioned typewriter is that it taught you accuracy. Mistakes were costly and even over-typing with Tipp-ex paper was still messy. And it didn't correct the CC.

    And if you want a real challenge, try typing a long piece onto a duplicator stencil. Correcting those was a right pain.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Accuracy

      "And if you want a real challenge, try typing a long piece onto a duplicator stencil. Correcting those was a right pain."

      As a student I remember seeing the professor's secretary emerge with a stencil sheet almost completely covered in red, and our lecturer remark "and there you see an example of someone who got the job for something other than her typing skills".

  20. swschrad

    author never saw/used a Correcting Selectric

    it had white-out ribbon on it, and a special backspace key that went back, placed the white-out ribbon down, and let you type your one character correctly, blocking out the old oops.

    I presume also never used a Mag Card Selectric, which was perhaps the earliest stored program typewriter that didn't require a supercooled machine room of computers.

  21. Gannettt

    Typewriters! I went to a school for the blind and partially-sighted, and we learned to touch type on ancient manual typewriters from the age of 9. The idea was that blind people could write something that sighted people could read.

    Our first typing teacher was a dear old lady, who looked like she'd stepped out of a 1950s office, complete with Dame Edna-style 'winged' glasses. She would walk around, making sure we weren't looking at our keys and keeping our wrists up. Imagine a dozen 10-year olds bashing away at typewriters in a small classroom, the noise was horrendous.

    We had a mixture of manual portables (I remember we had some Silver Reed 420s) and those tall Olympia typewriters with teh cream and green keys (like the one in the picture). The older machines always made a lovely clear, dark impression, the portables were pretty poor. One lad actually suffered the indignity of swiping the carriage return lever and the carriage sailing off onto the floor next to his desk!

    The teacher cared for those machine like they were her children. The smell of typewriter cleaning fluid was intoxicating.

    We learned to use Tipp-Ex, the liquid (also intoxicating) and the little slips of paper. Someone mentioned carbon copies. I well remember having to do two carbons, one on white and one on yellow flimsy. If you made a mistake, you not only had to correct the top copy, but the other copies as well.

    Towards the end of my school days, in the mid-80s, the old teacher retired, and a younger lady took over. Almost overnight, out went the historic machines, replaced by daisy wheel electronics. We were blown away by the correction key, kerning, automatic bold, centering, etc (centering was an art on manuals: tab to the centre of the carriage and backspace once for every two letters in the heading)

    I recently came across a manual and tried to use it. Threading the paper in just came back like riding a bike, but the force needed to bash the keys was something else, how the hell did we type 60 wpm back in the day!

    1. Tim Worstal

      "The idea was that blind people could write something that sighted people could read."

      And isn't that a bloody marvelous idea? Something that came from someone with experience I'd bet, not a committee.

      I still recall that our piano tuner (sisters were tyros for the instrument, father had played professionally too) was blind. It was a standard training course wasn't it?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Typewriter layout

    I am unconvinced by the argument about the typewriter layout being designed to prevent keys colliding. The Russian typewriter layout has a lot of key combinations that occur frequently placed next to one another, e.g. вы, пр, ит, and they seem to get on OK. I believe too that studies have shown that the Dvorak layout doesn't work any better than qwerty in practice.

    I do wonder if a real reason behind qwerty was that the layout is copyrightable, whereas abc or etaion shrdlu are not.

    1. John Savard Silver badge

      Re: Typewriter layout

      Well, there is actual history about the original modern typewriter with that layout. And as far as I know, while the typewriter was protected by patents, other typewriter companies did not have to license the QWERTY layout, even if some preferred to stick with other arrangements like the Blickensderfer DHIATENSOR.

  23. Herby Silver badge


    These LOUD devices were the precursor to most computer keyboards. They had a constant motor running and you learned all the magic on how they worked. I started on a nice 026 model that had vacuum tubes (valves in the other hemisphere) in it. It took a while to warm up. The trick was to know when it was ready to go, as it wouldn't really tell you. If you hit the 'rel' key (release) [as I recall] it would latch and only when everything was hot (about 20 seconds later) would the mechanics cycle. The nice 026 was limited ot a 48 character set, but that was enough. In high school, I had to make a bunch of copies of some history thing, so I hit the keypunch, and when it was all done over I went to the 'listing' machine which would produce a nice printout. My teacher was impressed.

    Later I graduated to a nice (solid state) 029 keypunch which would do a 64 character set (all those fancy special characters!). Thankfully it was an instant warm-up device so you could keep it turned off most of the time and not be subject to the drone of the motor (the whine of the power supplies in the computer was enough!).

    Commensurate with the 029 was the model 33 teletype which has its nice mechanical keyboard. You got used to waiting for the distributor to cycle to hit the next key, and it was a noisy beast. I have one still and marvel at its mechanics.

    Yes, typing is a skill, and electronic keyboards we now use make it easier. Sometimes I wish that today's programmers just try to write a program on a 33 teletype. It it is a typical small (one page) program it will humble you very soon (even if the software has some 'backspace' editing feature.


  24. Paul Cooper

    The old days weren't better - or even as good

    Mt favourite rebuttal of anyone who says the old days were better is a simple comparison of three generations - my mother's, mine and my children's. In my mother's childhood, a substantial number of children died from measles. In mine, antibiotics meant few died, but most people got the disease and some lived with damaged sight or, in the worst case, mental handicaps. Through vaccination, my children don't know what measles is, and an outbreak of a few hundred cases is called an epidemic.

    The old days certainly weren't better.

  25. YetAnotherLocksmith

    Of course, these days everyone can correct what they type

    but fewer and fewer seem to bother!

    1. Fraggle850

      Re: Of course, these days everyone can correct what they type

      Or read through revised text, leaving fragments of their original text in the middle of a revised sentence.

  26. briesmith

    Drives us mad...

    Managed an IT department which had a key to disk system. Many of the operators (all girls then) would Tippex over the cursor because its constant flashing as it sat in the top left hand corner of the screen when the station was idle used to irritate them.

    PS The IBM Selectric typewriter would remove characters using lift-off tape when the backspace was used; if you knew how to tell it to.

  27. Yugguy

    Disagree COMPLETELY

    I have amazingly fond childhood memories of my Dad's old typewriter and my Mum's old treadle sewing machine.

    Tactile experiences you just don't get today.

  28. Concrete Gannet

    Matt Ridley's book "Rational Optimism" supports the case that we really are richer. If you look at how many hours of labour it takes to light your home, that number has decreased by tens of thousands in the space of two centuries. There's a nice summary here:'s-digest.aspx

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