My Writing Instruments

This entry is part 21 of 31 in the series 2011B

I first acquired an interest in writing when I was a boy of thirteen in 1958 and my first instrument of choice for placing my thoughts to paper was the ball point pen. Since my handwriting was fairly difficult to read I decided it would be nice if I could use a typewriter instead. I was delighted to discover that my Mom had this old Underwood that no one had used for years. I believe it was manufactured in the 1920s. Here is what it looked like.

I used a hunt and peck method and managed to type out a few things with it. Then in December of that year I was in an explosion that rendered my left hand useless for typing.  I continued anyway using one hand and still managed to get some stories typed out.


This was a frustrating instrument to use, however.  Th ribbon was consistently  getting stuck and I kept having to fiddle with it to get it to work.  The keys would also jam sometimes. As soon as I could afford it I decided I would get a more decent machine.


Finally at the age of sixteen I used some money I made from picking fruit to upgrade. I found a nice little Olympia in a pawn shop going for $80.  it sold new for around $120 and since it looked in  good shape I thought I was getting a deal. Here’s the image:

It is interesting to note that $80 in 1961 is equivalent to over $600 today.


Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed.  It was a well made machine and worth every penny of my hard earned money. I used this for all my typing needs for about 23 years.  Finally in 1984 I bought  fancy electric typewriter.  I’m not sure of the model but it looked something like this:

This cost me around $1000 at the time and was state of the art and produced typeset quality type.  I was happy with this until the Mac Plus came out in 1986.  When I saw that it could typeset like a $25,000 machine I was sold and had to have it. It cost $2595 at the time and the Image Writer for printing was $595.00.  since I would use it for business as well as writing I figured the investment would pay off.


Here is the Mac Plus

And here is the Image Writer:


The image writer only had a resolution of 72 DPI, but when I needed higher quality I went to a service bureau and for $1.00 a page I could have laser prints at 300 DPI which was impressive at that time.

This served me well for a few years. Finally around 1990 I had to upgarde and got a MacSE with dual floppy drives and an external 80 MB hard drive.  I was in heaven indeed with this one:

Then a couple years later I was sold on upgrading to the performa 600.  This had a lot faster clock speed and I thought it wold be a much faster machine.  Here it is:

This was a huge disappointment.  Not only was it much slower than any previous Mac but it took ages to boot up. It was around this time that Apple was having many problems and many thought it may go under.  I thought I might have to face the possibility of switching to the PC.  The thought of this made me cringe.


Finally around 1998 I got a G3 machine that worked great.  In fact I still have it today and use it to run my sign making equipment.  It looks a lot like the Performa but much better under the hood.

At this time my wife also worked with me and we got an iMac like this one for her:

Then in 2001 I got my first notebook the G3 ibook:


In 2006 I had to upgrade to the G4 ibook.  I still use this now and then.

Finally around 2009 I bought a Mac mini which i still use as my main machine. My wife uses a mini also.  Again my computer is somewhat dated and there are lots of choices available for an upgrade, but I am in no hurry as the current one is serving me well.

We are now way past the idea of computers merely assisting us with writing and typesetting.  They are now put to thousands of uses and more are forthcoming. I certainly appreciate the technology we have and have no desire to return to the not so good old days.

Copyright 2011 by J J Dewey

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7 thoughts on “My Writing Instruments

  1. It’s interesting that you think of it as your “writing machine”. My first interest in the computer was different. I wanted to mess with the computing capabilities. The spreadsheet programs looked interesting for estimating construction; I use that now ever since. I remember the all out advertizing war for spreadsheet ascendancy involving 123 and several other contenders. But MS Excel ended it all with a superior product which they gave to Steve Jobs for exclusive use on the Apple for the entire first year – which saved Apple from financial ruin at the time.

    And I wanted to play games. Before the Internet we could go online and download games. But that was always so finicky and disappointing I never got into it much. And the power of BASIC soon proved disappointing, after all, how helpful is a program that can figure out your gas mileage? Then I got MS Word for DOS, which was rather basic. But after upgrading to Word for DOS 4, I discovered outline capability and other fancy stuff. I ended up using Word for DOS 4 to write 400 pages about how to build your own dream home. So the word processing capability never got to me until about 1984.

    Over the years I owned many more computers than JJ or most people ever did. Back in the 486 days I even sold computers as a side job. Living in Redmond, I always upgraded all my MS software early. I always had friends who worked at Microsoft who could get it for me at employee prices. And using the PC rather than the Mac, my hardware prices were always about half as long as I stuck to the homemade “Frankenstein” type computers that I prefer. All off-the-shelf parts that I can shop online and change out to tweak capabilities whenever I want.

    Now the computer is the central part of my life – I figure at least two thirds. I know many people experience the computer combined with the Internet that way now. It opens a window to a wider world that so very many people across the whole world and so very many diverse interests cohabit. The growth of technology we’ve seen is, as JJ points out, staggering. When I worked at the University of WA as a carpenter, a professor of geology pointed out to me how they used the fledgling Internet back in about 1981. He showed me how he could email his colleagues in Norway or at any University in the world and get an answer within hours. He said all their communications now went over the Internet. At the time it seemed to me like a very limited game only played by University professors. The computers cost millions. But within a few years we all had desktop computers far more powerful than those earlier expensive ones.

    In about 1979 I took a class in BASIC at Radio Shack so I could learn to use the TRS 80 computer. Before that I had a PET (personal electronic transactor) from Commodore Business Machines. A girl in the class before mine had a question the teacher could not answer. So she got on the phone and called Bill Gates. By the way, our teacher had been Bill Gates’ teacher in High School at Mukilteo WA (just North of Seattle) and had introduced him and his buddy, Paul Allen, to computers on a field trip to Boeing when Gates was 14. Gates and Allen corresponded with the computer techs at Boeing for several years thereafter while they concocted MS Basic in their spare time. The girl, who was a school teacher, talked to Bill and ended up meeting him for a hamburger at Bob’s Big Boy diner on Highway 99 in north Seattle just south of the Radio Shack where we took the classes. Things have changed.

    I love this topic, the history of computers, partly because living in Redmond from 1981 to 1994 placed me among so many computer nerds for so many years and partly because I have loved my ringside view of the advent of TV and computers and of so much more advanced tech. Now they say the next 30 or 40 years will cram even more advances into even shorter time. I believe we will see super advances and conveniences coupled with a very down home back-to-the-earth attitude shift.

    Your brother,
    Larry Woods

  2. I have also owned or used some Macs, and also an Apple II and III before the Mac even existed. I used a “Fat Mac” (512k memory, model after the first “Skinny” 128K Mac, and just before the Mac Plus) when I went back to college in the 1980s. Not too long ago I had a G5 PowerMac and am considering getting another Mac here sometime this year.

    Bought an Apple Ipad 2 a week or so ago. Those are pretty cool too, especially for reading or surfing. You can read books (many free) from the Apple store, and then you can download a free Kindle app to read Kindle books (also, many free). The advantage, in my view, of the Ipad over the Kindle is that you can do a lot more than just reading on an iPad (including video and many apps). You should also be able to get the Kindle for your Mac mini (not sure if it will work on any of your Macs that use the PowerPc chip instead of the Intel chip).


    1. I was aware of the older Macs but they were not worth the investment for me until the Mac plus came out accompanied by the Laserwriter which could produce near typeset quality output. I buy a lot of used books which are cheaper than Kindle. Then I have it forever.

      If you still have those old Macs they may be worth money now as collectors items.

  3. I really wish I was as gifted as you in writing, JJ. You say that one often learn the same skill over and over again from our past lives. Maybe that how you got so good with it and with practice. I admit that I hate to type and thus never took a liking too it. In this life, I am an artist with skills at drawing and as an astronomer I do research for professional astronomers on different parts of the field, using different software.

    I am going to try to improve my writing skills, but we all have our talents, and this one is not mine. LOL.

    I think you misspelled this sentience …Finally around 2009 I bought a Mac mini which I still use as my main machine. Again my computer is somewhat dated andhere lots of choices available for an upgrade, but I am in no hurry as the current one is serving me well…
    Is it and here and not andhere?

    Maybe you can tell us what software you use for your writings?

    1. I bought version one of Microsoft Word when i bough my Mac Plus and have used it ever since. My favorite version is version five. Unfortunately, it doesn’t run on the newer systems so I am forced to use the newer versions which are not nearly as good. A lot of my newer software has gone backwards in evolution and is much more complicated and less efficient than the older versions.

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