Jack Zylkin has created a hack that turns any kind of vintage typewriter into a modern keyboard for tablets and computers — one that also can type on paper. Appropriately called USB typewriters, watching them in action is nothing short of fascinating.
While they may seem like a novelty, the idea of typing a document and immediately having both a physical and digital copy is appearling enough that he's already sold hundreds of them via his Etsy store.
Jack isn't a professional writer — he is an engineer. He designs and makes things. We asked him if he actually uses his own invention, and he says using the typewriter is a luxury in life that allows him to slow down the brain. "The typewriter is not the most appropriate thing for me to do my work on," he says. "However, when I am at home, writing to friends or brainstorming ideas or even making grocery lists, I have a dock set up for my iPad."
He doesn't even look at the iPad, as you can see in the video Etsy published. "I usually don't put the iPad on top of the typewriter like in my video, although that is very cool to do — I sort of just put the iPad out of the way so I don't have to look at it, then type away and grab what I typed later to email or tweet or save. The typewriter helps me focus and not get distracted by my inbox."
That's the key: not being distracted by the inbox. I do the same with aiWriter and a Bluetooth keyboard, but the notifications still come in. Jack's method goes five steps back. The iPad turns into a digital recipient for your paper thoughts. Not the other way around. It's like a printer in reverse.
It may seem a bit crazy, but single-tasking and a slower pace may be the best thing for both your productivity and creativity.
Hundreds of good crazy people
Jack says that he has sold 200 USB typewriters and around 600 kits. That's a lot of people for a small Etsy store and eccentric concept in a device.
He normally keeps in contact with his customers, especially those who buy the kits, to see if they have any trouble and help them. Occasionally, the students surpass the master: "I'm sometimes really surprised by the amazing things folks make with my USB Typewriter circuitry — one intrepid hacker used my circuitry in his typewriter-driven version of Zork and I also have a few customers that use my circuitry to create steampunk masterpieces like this one."
As you would expect, his clients love them. "They love the typewriters I upgrade for them," he says, "they are all lovers of typewriters already, and I just go ahead and make them that much more useful and special, so what is not to like?"
He even allows clients to send in their own typewriters, and some of them are quite special: "Some customers are collectors with access to rarer typewriters than I would be able to find myself, and others have typewriters with sentimental value." He does those at half the cost of the typewriters he purchases to retrofit. Things are going so well that he is even starting "a line of funky coloured typewriters", which he gets powder-coated at a bicycle paintshop according to the customer's colour preference.
We're happy to see people like Jack coming with ideas like this. In fact, I may just get myself a sweet IBM Selectra.