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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Cypher and Telegraphic Typewriters: Two 'Odd Fish' from New Zealand

New Zealand's telegraphic typewriter inventor Donald Murray:
New Zealand Free Lance (Auckland), March 14, 1914
New Zealand's cypher typewriter inventor Morgan Cyprian McMahon O'Brien:
"Britain's 'Enigma'" - Intelligence and Strategy: Selected Essays (2005)
Slanderer: Wenger
*Patterson, Louisana-born Rear Admiral Joseph Numa Wenger (1901-1970), who seems to have had such a low opinion of New Zealanders and Irishmen,  played a leading role in the development of both the US Naval Security Group Command and the US National Security Agency. He was one of the seminal figures in American cryptologic history and, more than anyone else, was responsible for establishing a cryptologic organisation Navy-wide.
Tony Olmo, of Bronx Typewriters, got me started on all this when he pointed me in the direction of a video about an L.C. Smith 8-10 typewriter in a collection at Macoy Publishing in Richmond, Virginia. This typewriter types in lower case Roman characters and, in what appears to be easily decipherable "cypher" text, in upper case "Coptic English" (that is, according to the narrator Martin Faulks. I could find no other reference to "Coptic English" as a "cypher" font.).
The Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Company was established by Robert Macoy (1815-1895), born in Armagh, Ulster, Northern Ireland, a prominent freemason. He is described by Faulks as an "avid code breaker", but of course Macoy was long dead before this particular model of the L.C. Smith was made. Faulks, an Englishman, is known as "the Norwich Ninja", an author, martial artist and "esotericist", whose interests include freemasonry. His video concerns a 2007 book called Committed to the Flames: The History and Rituals of a Secret Masonic Rite, by Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris.
Anyway, getting on to more serious (typewriter) matters, Tony's email led me to a search of cypher typewriters (not sure that I would call the videoed L.C. Smith one, as it strikes me as a bit too simplistic to be called a cypher machine).
Before embarking on this hunt, I had been giving a lot of thought to Donald Murray, the former Auckland and Sydney newspaper journalist who invented a telegraphic typewriter.
The Northern Miner (Charters Towers), May 21, 1914
The reason for my renewed interest in Murray is that is a 100 years this year since Murray's far-sighted invention was launched in the United States and Britain. 
And on Friday, smack bang in the middle of my cypher typewriter quest and thoughts of Murray, a researcher from Auckland University rang to say his university was planning an exhibition to celebrate the fact Murray had attended that seat of learning. Not sure how the university had stumbled across Murray - maybe my thoughts had been transmitted across the Tasman, through some sort of magical Murray process. The researcher was unaware this was a Murray "centenary year", but was nonetheless already well versed on Murray's life and times. One thing he is keen to know is whether any of Murray's machines have survived - in Switzerland, perhaps? Murray, battling a brain tumour, had moved to Switzerland in the early 1940s and he died, aged 79, at Territet, a suburb of the town of Montreux, on July 14, 1945. His childless widow Patricia remained in nearby Veytaux.
My chance discovery of Murray came about rather fortuitously, in March 2012, when I found and translated a Japanese entry from Koichi Yasuoka. I was stunned to realise Murray and his inventions were so little known. In the English language, at least, Murray had been completely forgotten about to that time. There was a lot of interest in my Murray blog post, and subsequently he found his way on to Wikipedia (I didn't write that sketchy entry, I hasten to add). However, Murray has yet to be recognised by either the Australian or New Zealand dictionaries of biography.
The New Zealand Herald (Auckland), January 13, 1930
Tony Olmo's email last week and my search for cypher typewriters immediately put me on to yet another completely forgotten yet ingenious New Zealand inventor, Morgan Cyprian McMahon O'Brien. Like Murray, O'Brien has no entry in Te Ara's New Zealand Dictionary of Biography, and there is incredibly little known about him. There are some scan references to him online, mostly just to his patents.
O'Brien was born in Auckland on September 25, 1886. His father, Charles, came from Youghal in the south of Ireland, once the home of Sir Walter Raleigh. Although O'Brien finished high in the New Zealand civil service examinations in 1904, when was 17, by 1911 he had became a miner. And not just in any mine, but at the infamous Waihi mine in the Hauraki district. Indeed, he was working there during the tragic miners' strike of 1912.  O'Brien continued to work in gold mines in the Thames Valley district until 1914, when he enlisted as a field artillery gunner in the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force headed for Egypt and Gallipoli. He survived the war, returned to New Zealand, then left for Sydney in the early 1920s, travelling on to Vancouver and through Montreal for London, apparently with a wife and father-in-law. 
What happened to him beyond that time I cannot say, but these extracts from a chapter called 'Britain's "Enigma"' in the 2005 book Intelligence and Strategy: Selected Essays , by John Robert Ferris, tell something of O'Brien's later career:

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Typewriters and Certainties: A Short Salute to Van Quine

From A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind, by Roy Sorensen, professor of philosophy at Dartmouth College.
In Van Quine's obituary, written by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times said, "Although a 'Quine' is defined in the New Hackers Dictionary as 'a program that generates a copy of its own source text as its complete output', Van Quine never wrote on a computer, always preferring the 1927 Remington typewriter that he first used for his doctoral thesis."
Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908-December 25, 2000) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. From 1930 until his death, Quine was continually affiliated with Harvard University in one way or another, first as a student, then as a professor of philosophy and a teacher of logic and set theory, and finally as a professor emeritus who published or revised several books in retirement. He filled the Edgar Pierce Chair of Philosophy at Harvard from 1956 to 1978. A poll conducted among analytic philosophers named Quine as the fifth most important philosopher of the past two centuries.

The flower wilts, the fern rises

The former British Olivetti Typewriter Company factory in Glasgow, built at a time, immediately after Word War II, when the British Government actively fostered foreign investment and economic growth in Scotland. The Government will now have to start talking turkey to the Scots again, starting with a tax upheaval.
Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
- Flower of Scotland, the unofficial Scottish national anthem
The Scottish Commonwealth Games team uniform
After a brief highland fling with Scottish nationalism while Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games (once known as the British Empire Games) from July 23-August 3, Scotland yesterday came back down to earth and voted 55.3 per cent-44.7 per cent to not break free from the United Kingdom. The sighs of relief could be heard from Whitehall to the Royal Mile. For the time being, at least, the Union Jack retains its dash of blue and Britain's stockpile of nuclear weapons stays put, north of the Borders.
Meanwhile, in Scottish-influenced New Zealand, it seems voters will also opt for the status quo, and return conservative party Prime Minister John Key to power in the national election tomorrow. The good news is that if Key is retained, he has promised to hold a referendum on the national flag and the Union Jack may disappear completely from its top left corner.
I do hope that Key, if he holds on to the prime ministership, will prove to be as good as his word. The latest poll on the flag question, in July last year, showed 61 per cent of New Zealanders wanted a change, to something more akin to the Canadian flag - which means, of course, sans the Union Jack.
An independent Scotland would have been happy to hold on to St Andrew's Cross. Which is just as well, since the thistle is no maple leaf and a tartan flag might be a wee bit too much. (I do quite like the rampant red lion on a yellow background, however.)
For New Zealand, I'd love to see the national symbol, the silver fern, feature prominently if a new national flag is to be introduced. It could still corporate the four stars representing the Southern Cross.
The silver fern was embraced as the official emblem of the New Zealand rugby union team, the All Blacks, in 1892, and was soon adopted by other sporting teams and as a national symbol in all spheres. It was the idea of a great rugby player, Thomas Rangiwahia Ellison (1866-1904), who captained the All Blacks in 1893 and devised the lethal 2-3-2 scrum. In 1891 he became one of the first Maori solicitors. 
But back to Scotland. At least 90 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote in yesterday's independence referendum. Like Tom Ellison 91 years earlier, I was on a rugby trip to Edinburgh in March 1979 when the first Scottish devolution vote was held, and while 51.6 per cent supported the proposal, the turnout was a mere 64 per cent, meaning the "Yes" vote was only worth 32.9 per cent of the registered electorate, short of the required 40 per cent. I felt disappointed in the outcome back then, but progress has been made.
As for Australia, no new flag, nor a republican, appears to be on the horizon. If a new flag is introduced in New Zealand before 2017, it would be acutely embarrassing for this country.
Regardless of what happens in the coming years, Scotland already has one advantage over Australia and New Zealand: it was the home of at least two typewriter factories, both in Glasgow - one owned by Remington and the other by Olivetti:

Friday, 19 September 2014

Colour My World

A collection of colour typewriter images from around the world. I gathered them for no other reason than they appealed to me, and gave me my own ideas: