You would never think that a wire could slow Internet speed. Well, perhaps you would think of that, but I hadn’t thunk about it much. I was once warned by my friend Eric that the wrong kind of wire could bring an Ethernet network to its knees. I knew he was right, but I didn’t act on it because it didn’t affect me. Until last week.
Ethernet, the electrical and electronic architecture that runs the Internet, runs on copper wire (mostly). Inside our offices and homes are kilometers of cables that deliver digital signals to our computers from nodes of the Internet far away.
In my home I have numerous computers, two printers, two Apple TV units, one Roku, and a device that reports from my roof-top solar panels. These are the wired connections, all of which use Ethernet. Unfortunately, our home was not wired with the Internet in mind. Though it’s a modern house, it has an older telephone wiring system. That has not been helpful in my networking efforts.
I have solved two problems with network wiring by using devices called Tendas. These take an Ethernet signal and put it onto the household electrical wiring. They cleverly deliver Ethernet where it is impossible to get wires; you plug a Tenda device into any electrical outlet, and then plug an Ethernet cable into that device. Elsewhere in the home you put another Tenda and pick up the signal there. With these devices I have Ethernet at my electrical utility box, and thus I can monitor my solar panels.
A couple of weeks back my neighbor told us that she and her husband were on the new fiber-optic Internet service provided in our city by AT&T. I had seen men on fancy trucks pulling the fiber along the overhead lines a couple of summers ago, but I didn’t know it was ready for consumers. I was excited! Our Internet has been provided for the past 15 years by a local Internet Service Provider. It was bonded DSL, and the fastest speed we ever got was 32 Mbs down and 6.7 Mbs up, which is pretty poky. The alternative was the local cable TV supplier, whose offering is much faster, but famously unreliable.
Mbs is Megabits-per-second, the measurement unit of network speed. Divide that by 10* and you have Megabytes-per-second – approximately – and that tells you how fast your Internet connection is. On a 100 Mbs connection you can send and receive 10 megabytes per second. If you have a 25MB Photoshop file, it will take approximately 2.5 seconds to transmit the file over the Internet. That is acceptably fast in today’s world. AT&T’s fiber-optic is ten times faster than that, so the same 25MB file would take only 0.25 second to transmit. I was salivating!
I jumped. A call to AT&T got me started. Limits? Throttling? Extra fees for non-AT&T suppliers? No, no, and no. It seemed too good to be true.
I signed up, and three days later a team of skillful workers showed up at my house. They pulled the fiber through an underground conduit into the phone box on my house, then they drilled through the wall into a discreet spot behind my television and installed the gadget that converts the optical signal into an electrical signal. Then then routed that back out to the phone box, and somehow got the signal upstairs to my office, where they installed a modem and WiFi router.
In three days I went from 32 Mbs to 1000 Mbs signal speed. I was thrilled. The AT&T service is also half the price of my former service. I now get 30X speed at .5X price. You can’t beat that.
Everything was moving faster except my primary computer, a Mac Pro (cylinder). With that machine I was getting only 67 Mbs after the fiber-optic install. My MacBook Air was getting a similar speed, but its Ethernet comes through a USB adapter (there is no Ethernet port on a MacBook Air). Even the new WiFi was faster than either of these, coming in at about 350 Mbs.
I started troubleshooting. Was it my 16-port Ethernet switch? Was it my Mac Pro? Did I have a defective connector? I started dragging wires around the office, draping them over tables and chairs, connecting this to that, and then that to this, and I discovered that my wife’s Mac Pro was running at 900 Mbs-plus while mine was clocking-in at a paltry 67 Mbs.
It was the wire.
I looked it up. There are three common wires used for Ethernet wiring: CAT-5, CAT-5E, and CAT-6. They have eight wires inside, each twisted in pairs, then co-twisted at very specific intervals to prevent cross-talk and electromagnetic induction. Though this is pretty esoteric, I realized that I must be a victim of induction-related trouble.
I installed a new Ethernet cable between the Switch and my computer, and it suddenly soared to 938 Mbs! Wow!
My cable had also been way too long, so I had coiled the left-over part into a nice 8-inch coil on the floor behind my computer. It turns out that this is a very bad idea since making a coil in a wire whose purpose is to prevent induction creates a big inductive opportunity. It’s better to have the cable go across the floor and never coil it up.
I also discovered that Apple makes an adapter to bring Ethernet into a MacBook Air through the Thunderbolt connector rather than through USB. I ordered one. When it arrived, I plugged it in and my MacBook jumped to a phenomenal 824 Mbs. This is 12 X the speed I got with the USB adapter. (Apple’s specification on the USB adapter says it goes to 100 BaseT which is only 100 Mbs, which explains the speed problem.)
Now all of our computers are running at full speed. Our TVs are happier, my solar panels are exactly the same, and my iPad is also happier. Everything is faster, and I am now a part of the digital community, no longer limping along with old technology
*The geeks reading this will quickly counter: No it’s not! It’s only eight bits per byte, etc. They are correct, but with what are called parity bits and checksum characters, it works out closer to ten, so I always figure that I should divide by ten. It works just as well, and it’s easier math.
Ray was a man among men in the graphic arts industry. He worked tirelessly for decades to make our lives better through technological advances in printing and publishing.
Though I had known him casually for many years, Mr. Prince became a more important part of my life in 2014. We were at McCormick Place in Chicago at PRINT/GraphExpo (don’t remember which). He invited me to have coffee with him. I was happy to accept the offer.
During that conversation, Ray asked about Cal Poly (where I teach). He asked about my thoughts on Cal Poly becoming the site of the world’s largest library of printing and graphic arts books and magazines. At the time, the Wadewitz Library was housed at the headquarters of Printing Industries of America in Sewickly, Pennsylvania. They had to move, and the library had to go. Mr. Prince took it as his personal challenge to find a new home for that library.
I learned during our conversation that he was shopping around for the proper location for the books (50,000 volumes) to be housed and made available to the industry.
He was looking at Clemson University, Rochester Institute of Technology (his alma mater), and Cal Poly. He had tested the waters at each institution, and he wanted to get a sense from me if I felt that Cal Poly had the academic importance to become the new home to this extraordinary collection.
I remember the conversation. He challenged me: What makes Cal Poly the best place for this library? I told him that we have the best students; we have the best facilities; we have the best faculty. I told him that we have the best program of graphic communication education in the world.
I suppose that he liked my answers, because after he consulted with others from my department and my university, he chose Cal Poly to become the home of this library of books and magazines.
Mr. Prince came to Cal Poly, and together with my Department Head, Harvey Levenson, they made the announcement about the library. The trucks showed up the next year, and literal tons of books were unloaded into an unused classroom.
Steel shelves were erected in the backs of all of our classrooms, our meeting rooms and our storage rooms. A hole was cut in a concrete wall on the ground floor of our building and a large storage area was added to our warehouse – just for the books.
Professor Emeritus Gary Field took on the task of sorting, identifying and shelving the books at Cal Poly. He broke them into various categories: rare books went to the university’s Kennedy Library Special Collections Department, complete collections were housed in shelves in our classrooms. Duplicate books were shipped to other universities to fill out their collections.
Over the next five years Cal Poly absorbed and presented the Wadewitz Library, the GATF Collection, and many other books that were collected by Mr. Prince and Dr. Levenson. They wanted Cal Poly to be the absolute go-to library for researchers and scholars, and to be a valuable resource to our current students.
It has been a tremendous success.
In 2015, Mr. Prince asked me to attend a meeting in the conference room in our department office. He was in town for a major announcement.
I was there, joined by my colleagues Dr. Harvey Levenson, Dr. Ken Macro, Gary Field and our Dean, Dr. Douglas Epperson. I was puzzled by the request for me to attend the meeting.
Ray Prince gave a short speech about his career and his effort to find a new home for the library of books for our industry. He talked about the meeting that he and I had had in Chicago. He told us that he had planned to make a significant donation to Cal Poly Graphic Communication, and that he also wanted to establish two scholarships for our students:
The Gary Field Scholarship and the Brian Lawler Scholarship.
I was brought to tears (and am tearing-up now as I write this). I had no idea!
He handed two checks to Dean Epperson, and asked him to establish those scholarships.
He also announced that some of his other donation funds should be earmarked for the continued development and operation of the Shakespeare Press Museum (I am the faculty advisor). That donation made it possible for me to expand the museum’s collection and to repair some of our equipment in the years since. His contribution made it unnecessary for me to beg for money every year, an event that was, at times, exhausting.
Never again would I have to worry about how to pay for paper and ink for the museum. It was all covered – from now on.
In the years since then I have added to the scholarship that bears my name.
This year, on the announcement of my retirement (June), my fellow professors, and members of our Industry Advisory Board added a significant amount to the scholarship.
And at my (surprise) birthday party this year, my friends added several thousand dollars to the fund. The scholarship is now valued at about $35,000.
So, this year, for the first time, our faculty will be able to award one or two scholarships to students in our program. I am looking forward to that experience. It will be a reward to those who deserve our support to help them as they study graphic communication.
But, this isn’t about me or my scholarship. It’s about Mr. Raymond Prince. He is the man who made all of this possible. He is the man who saw value in Cal Poly’s program, and made these contributions to the department and to the industry because he believed in our students.
I believe in our students, and I am proud to share in the privilege of being a part of Ray Prince’s circle of friends and colleagues.
He believed in me, and I am honored to have known him.
In a previous post I wrote about the differences between typewriter quotes and real quotation marks, and how to do it right.
I have received some nice feedback on that post.
One person suggested that while it’s great to use proper quotation marks in printed material, it is impossible to get those same proper marks in web pages. Au to the contrary! (as they say in French). HTML has an extensive library of proper punctuation marks as well as accented characters for central- and eastern-European languages (those based on the Roman alphabet).
I read the New York Times online (and in print on Sundays!). Its online presentation is an excellent example of typography and proper punctuation done right. Most other online publications pay attention to typography but let the apostrophes and other quotations fall victim to the horrible typewriter quotation marks. It’s disturbing.
When I prepare these posts for WordPress, I use proper quotation marks and apostrophes – even when I respond to an online comment. WordPress allows me to use the keyboard commands to get these marks, making it much easier than putting in the HTML code for those marks.
But, when constructing a web page with hard code, or even when using a program like Adobe Dreamweaver that does much of the work for you, it’s possible to insert the proper marks as you work. It’s a bit of work, but it’s logical. The handsome result is the reward for doing it right.
So, let’s say you’re building a page of HTML code, and you need a proper apostrophe. In the code you should type:
Which results in a left-facing apostrophe, correct for most contractions and possessive applications.
To get a single right-facing quote, perhaps for the opening of a quote-within-a-quotation phrase, you would type:
This would yield the correct open-quote character needed for this purpose.
For double-quotes, the HTML codes are:
…for the opening, right-facing double-quotes, and:
…for the closing, left-facing double-quotes.
Interestingly, there are no correct prime marks in HTML, so making single or double-primes for actual inch dimensions is not included in the HTML character set. I suppose you could go back to the unattractive typewriter quotes:
…which works OK for inch marks (it’s not great, but it’s better than nothing).
And, what about en- and em-dashes? Can HTML handle those? Absolutely! To get an en-dash, the HTML code is:
And for the em-dash, it’s:
If you find yourself working on an online publication, you could set up some of the more common codes in keyboard shortcuts. I have used a program called QuickKeys on my Mac for years; similar programs exist for both Mac and Windows machines. By hitting some combination of keys you can get strings of characters for your work in HTML, or elsewhere.
I have prepared a chart showing all of the HTML characters and their respective codes. Please download it with the link below and send it to your favorite online newspaper, or to the Rachel Maddow Show (where the typography has improved, but they still don’t know about proper quotation marks).
I’m in my second week of online teaching. It’s particularly difficult because my class is a hands-on course in digital photography and color management.
But this quarter it’s all hands-off. And that is making me crazy.
The announcement that I would be teaching online came at the end of last quarter, at the end of finals week. Cal Poly was not quick or decisive in making the decision about classes in Spring. They dithered a bit before making the official policy. Then we had two weeks to prepare and deliver.
Suddenly my colleagues and I were thrust into the world of Zoom,Screencast-o-matic and YouTube. We are also being forced (strongly encouraged) to switch learning management systems from one based on Moodle to a new one called Canvas. So I needed to learn a handful of new technologies in a short period of time. The first week was, mostly, successful (my students are patient). Everything that could go wrong went wrong. Then more things went wrong.
I am, of course, working from home. I have reasonably fast Internet over a wired mutiple-DSL connection. It works great when I am plugged in with an Ethernet cable. WiFi is altogether different. That, in my home is based on an antiquated system that I installed 15 years ago, and it is showing its weakness now. I tried on Thursday to teach my class from the dining room, over WiFi. I have 46 students, and just as they all got to the Zoom class, my Zoom crashed, and crashed and crashed. So I carried my MacBook Air upstairs while talking live to my students, and plugged in to the wire. Then it worked fine.
The strain on me and my systems is obvious, and my reaction to it is to do the best I can. I also know that I am not alone here. I hear from my colleagues that this is common. Everyone is straining under the load. I am doing OK, or not worse than my fellow teachers.
At the beginning of March, I ordered a new hard drive array from Other World Computing (OWC). This was a result of reaching capacity on my existing OWC RAID drive. I have a second drive that is running Time Machine, Apple’s excellent back-up software. It is the same size, and was also reaching capacity. My plan was to get a drive with twice that capacity, migrate the Time Machine files to that new drive, and then start over on one of the two smaller drives.
When I say “smaller” I mean huge hard drives, but relatively smaller than other huge hard drives. My primary drive, and my Time Machine back-up are both 16 TB. The new drive is 32 TB. In the new configuration that drive will become the Time Machine and the current one will be moved to everyday use. All of this seemed reasonable and easy.
Until the drive was delivered to my door.
Week One: I installed it, and ran the cable from my Mac Pro to… a USB-C plug on the back of the new drive. And that was my first problem. I don’t have any USB-C outlets or cables (I’m dating myself here). I called OWC, and they recommended an adapter made by Apple. That was the same day the Apple Stores closed. I ordered it online, spent $50, and it took a week to arrive.
Week Two: When that arrived, I plugged it in and connected the drive to the Mac Pro. And it didn’t work. Back on the phone with OWC Tech Support (fabulous tech support!!) I was asked what operating system I run. Answer: Sierra. Oh! That’s the problem! My operating system doesn’t acknowledge these new USB-C connections. I was told to update my OS. So I tried, and failed to upgrade. My third-party SSD, installed when my Mac Pro was new (2014?), would not support the upgrade because it lacked “a firmware partition.”
I searched for solutions, and found a few, one of which was to install the original SSD from Apple, and do the upgrade. I don’t have the original SSD, so that was not going to work. Another solution was to purchase an Apple-acceptable new SSD (Intel) and install that in the Mac Pro. An additional advantage was that I could order one of those with the Mac OS Catalina already installed. I ordered it.
Week Three: The new SSD arrived. I installed it (no small feat) and turned the machine on, and it didn’t work.
I contacted the seller (a really wonderful guy!) who walked me through a series of trouble-shooting steps and ultimately showed me how to create a bootable USB drive with the new OS on it. I tried, and failed to upgrade to the Catalina operating system. I was trying to go three operating systems forward in one step… bad idea. I made another USB boot drive with just one step forward in operating systems, and that one worked. After that I had the necessary firmware partition, and was able to initialize the new SSD, and ultimately to install the Catalina operating system on my Mac Pro. It was a two-day process all-told.
Week Four: Even with the new operating system, I still couldn’t get the new 32 TB RAID to work. I called OWC tech support again. The patient man on the other end walked me through some troubleshooting steps to determine that the cable was defective. They shipped one to me at no cost (superb tech support!). While he was helping me, their SoftRAID software indicated that one of my four original 4 TB drives was failing. The software suggested that I replace the drive quite soon! The tech support man underscored that message. I ordered a replacement drive, with two-day shipping.
Week Five: The replacement drive arrived. The cable arrived, and I plugged it in. The new 32 TB drive worked. Hurrah! I installed the replacement 4 TB drive in my old RAID enclosure, and that began a reconstruction process that lasted about six hours. By morning the old RAID was working perfectly again, thanks to the new drive.
ALL of my drives were now working!
Last night I began copying my Time Machine files (66.8 million or so) from the 16 TB drive to the new 32 TB drive.
After 17 hours (no exaggeration) of thinking about copying the files from the old to the new, my software gave up. I got a message about how it had run out of System resources. I moved to Plan C (perhaps it’s D). This morning I erased my Time Machine back up disk altogether, then started Time Machine over again on the new 32 TB drive. This back-up process will inevitably take a few weeks,* but I don’t really care. I’m skating on thin ice at the moment, but every day that passes will make the Time Machine back-up more complete. When it’s finished my system will be whole again.
You may wonder why I decided to erase the Time Machine drive. I needed to do this to get the space for my current work, which includes recording videos for my online classes. My other 16 TB drive is completely full.
Meanwhile, I have been trying to get my normal work done. And I have been doing pretty well, all things considered.
Thank you to Other World Computing for making very nice products, for making very nice software, and for absolutely incredible tech support.
And, thank you to my readers for caring enough to read about this odyssey. There may be something in here that will be helpful to others as they try to accomplish the same tasks.
*Checking in on Wednesday, April 15: It took less than three days to make a complete Time Machine back up of my drives.
It’s been about a month since I wrote my last blog. It was about variable-frequency-drive high voltage motor controllers and a 1935 book sewing machine. The relevance of that is cloudy, but suffice it to say that I have been deeply involved in bookbinding for the past two months.
The motor controller works perfectly, thank you. The machine also works now, but it still needs some work. I made a new drive belt and added that to the machine, and it works nicely. The problem now is the clutch, which needs to be disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. I am eager to do that, but I cannot, because I am now in isolation at home. I am not allowed on campus, so my machine is standing idle, waiting for some more effort to get it into perfect working order.
In the month since I wrote last I have been teaching a delightful class called Book Design Technology. It’s a course that is required of some of our students. It’s senior-level, and most of the students are graduating this week or in June. I had 34 students in the class.
We start the quarter as advanced typographers practicing what I call long-form typography. The students are required to find a book manuscript, edit the manuscript, and prepare a book from that manuscript. This involves cleansing the manuscript, editing, composing it into pages in Adobe InDesign, and preparing it for print. It is in this part that the students learn about GREP searches, and learn about the importance of tagging everything in the book manuscript with Paragraph and Character Styles.
Once the book is readied for print, we learn how to fold, collate, sew and bind books by hand. We start with a blank book to prepare the students for their much larger and more complex finished books. On several mornings this quarter I was in our book bindery with 16 young people, each armed with needle-and-thread, glue, brushes and book cloth. We stitched our signatures together using a traditional butterfly stitch (a hook-stitch).
The students begin by poking holes in 16-page signatures using an awl, then sewing with bookbinder’s thread in and out of the centers of those signatures. Each successive signature is sewn to the previous signature using the butterfly, where the thread exits the signature, is passed under the same stitch in the previous signature, then back into the signature to pass to the next set of holes.
It’s a relaxing and fun activity, and it requires manual dexterity, attention to detail and confidence. This was the first book-sewing experience for these students. They all did well.
Once the signatures are sewn, the spine is glued, the book block (the collected signatures) is trimmed square on three sides, and a cover is made. We used common buckram fabrics for the first books, but the students graduated to more refined materials for their final books. Some chose satins, others made their own cover materials (one young woman laser-cut her cover boards on thin sheets of wood). One adventurous student used velvet, a material that I have never seen as a bookbinding cloth before.
The covers, when complete, are laid out on the work tables, and the sewn book blocks are glued-in, using linen fabric for the spine, and decorative end-papers for the bookends. The results were spectacular. I have taught this class numerous times in my career at Cal Poly, and the work is always extraordinary.
I was working in parallel while my students were making their books. I chose a manuscript written by the late father of a dear friend. That manuscript, accompanied by about 100 family photos, I turned into a handsome hand-bound volume. I was working side-by-side with my students so that I could answer their questions about the process with fresh experience. I had not bound a book since last summer, so I needed to brush-up on my skills.
When I was finished with the book manuscript for my book, I decided to foil-stamp the cover, and to build a slip-case for the book. Slip-cases are not part of the assignment for my students, but then can make one if they wish. I had not done this before.
I took it on like a packaging project. I drew a detailed die-line for the slip-case, including scoring and cutting lines. I drew a detailed cutting diagram for the wrapper. Then I built mine and it was a disaster. I had chosen board too thin for the task, and I failed to line my box. On the second try I did better. I lined the boards, built the box, wrapped the box with book cloth, and the book didn’t fit inside! The addition of lining paper had made the fit so tight that I could not get the book inside.
I threw out both drafts and redesigned my case. This time I approached it differently. I made separate side boards, abandoned scoring and folding, and simply glued-up a box to fit the book (plus extra for the cloth and lining). I used the same board I use for book cases, so it was much thicker and thus much stronger.
The third time I succeeded. My slip-case is a nice addition to the project.
The experience came in handy when on the last lab day I accidentally ruined one of my student’s books while foil-stamping the cover.
She was crushed. I was crushed. The cover was melted (she had used a book cloth whose washable surface was made of plastic). I offered to make a new slip-case to replace the one I ruined.
The recent experience making my third, successful, slip-case proved valuable. I made the replacement slip-case for her, and it went together easily and quickly.
As a result of this I made a complete instruction manual for slip-case making.
In any event, the book design class was a tremendous success, marred only by the end-of-the-quarter arrival of the COVID-19 virus. I was forced to cancel the final exam, which was to be a book show, and I never got to see most of the finished books. Instead, I had the students photograph their books and submit the photos. From those photos I have made a slide show that I will share with them as a final exam.
And that’s where my odyssey began. Alternating current induction motors use the frequency of the line power (60 Hz in our case) to set the speed of the motor. To change speed, one must vary the frequency. For that there is a relatively new technology on the market call the Variable-Frequency Drive. These devices, all solid-state, are miraculous for this purpose. VFDs can be obtained that convert single-phase electricity to three-phase (solving one of the great machine shop problems of the world), and converting three-phase 60 Hz to three-phase almost-any Hertz for motor control.
I researched these and bought one made by a Chinese company called Teco, a company affiliated with Westinghouse. They are solidly built electronic devices that will take one kind of power in one side and then push a different kind of power out the other end.
But it’s not that simple! In order to run a VFD, I would need an electromagnetic contactor, a circuit breaker, three fuses, a 24 volt DC power supply (to operate the contactor), and a cooling fan to keep it all from overheating. All of this went into a large steel utility box. And, into that box I had to drill and saw about 50 holes. I also designed and built a handsome remote control box. That box is now mounted close to the operator’s seat while the rest of this equipment is 18 inches away, on the top of the machine.
Since this is a State of California installation, and strict safety rules apply to all such things, the whole system was built to-code (which would be smart in any case). All the wires had to be of the correct gauge and color, and all of the connectors had to be properly prepared. The external wiring was run in oil-tight conduit.
In the process of building this device, I learned about DIN 35 standards and DIN 35 rails. DIN is the Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standardization). These are systems devised for industrial electrical equipment, and they are impressive. If you need a flux capacitor, you can find one on eBay with the standard DIN 35 rail to mount it to your assembly. I bought several sections of DIN 35 rail, and put one strip in the back of my box. All of the other components simply clip onto to the rail, making assembly and wiring very easy. The whole thing has a clean, professional look as a result.
On projects like this I like to start with a schematic diagram to get the wiring figured out, then I advance to a scale drawing, with wiring, to-size. I do these drawings in Adobe Illustrator, and I am compulsive about them. The components must be accurately drawn, and the wires must be run correctly in the drawings. This allows me to see if things won’t fit, or if I am making a colossal error in putting the breaker to the right of the power supply. In one instance, I realized the the electromagnetic contactor should be mounted upside down. This allowed me to wire it more logically, and for the wires to move left-to-right, and never over or under the electrical components.
In this way I build my electrical projects more effectively by carefully following the drawing. If every wire is in the drawing, and I follow the drawing carefully, there is little chance of an error. With 208 volt power, errors have consequences I cannot afford.
Two steps in the construction of this electrical system were out of my normal routine. I seldom work on steel in my shop; usually I work on aluminum and wood. This one required a steel utility box with lots of holes. I drilled some, I cut one with a saber-saw, and I used chassis punches to cut three others. The chassis punches are the cleanest and easiest, as they cut a sharp edge with precision, and there are no metal chips that get loose.
To get all the holes in correct position, I made templates, cut on my CNC router, in an aluminum material called Alupanel. This stuff is a laminate of polyethylene with two outer layers of aluminum. It cuts easily on the router. Once those were made, I clamped them to the electric box’s sides, and then drilled or punched the holes through the holes in the template to match. On the top of the box are a pattern of 1/2 inch holes to vent heat. I drilled those on my drill press (not much fun).
Once the holes were drilled, I cut the burrs off, sanded the outer surfaces, and painted the box with a medium gray spray paint. This covered all exposed steel edges and made the box look more professional.
From there is was simply a matter of mounting all the hardware, and wiring the devices together. That took me about a day in the shop. I was careful to crimp, then solder, then shrink-tube most of the connectors. Adding lugs to the ends of wires proved unworkable in some cases; others worked fine. In the end, my finished motor control box looks a lot like the Adobe Illustrator drawing. Every wire is in its place; every tie-down is in proper position to keep the wires from getting confused.
At the museum, I attached the control box to the top of the machine, I then installed the conduits for the motor and the power cord, and I wired the remote control box, and mounted it to the front of the machine on a steel bar that was already there. For this I drilled and tapped two holes for machine screws to hold the box in place. The control wiring is all low voltage, either 10 or 24 VDC, neither of which require conduit, so I ran the shielded control wire out of water-tight grommets on the back of the control panel, and into the control box. It looks great; it works great.
Meanwhile, in bed at night, I read the instructions for programming the Variable-Frequency Drive. Since it’s a solid-state device, and it has a programmable logic circuit within, there are many adjustments you can make in software. One can control minimum and maximum frequencies (translate to motor speed), speed ratios, and you can turn on the remote control wiring if you have it. That moves the power switch and motor speed controls to my external box. Inside that box are a simple power switch and a potentiometer. The potentiometer varies a 10 VDC signal from the VFD, causing it to speed up or slow down in proportion to the resistance of the potentiometer.
I couldn’t test these settings in my shop because I didn’t have 208 three-phase power to work with, and the motor was already mounted on the machine in the museum, so I postponed programming the VFD until the device was wired and ready to run on the Smyth machine. Once I moved the box to the museum and installed it atop the machine, I was able to apply power to the VFD and test it (the motor turned!). I was successful with the wiring of the control box and motor.
The fast-blow fuses and fuse boxes were purchased on eBay, and shipped from China at the same time as the Corona Virus outbreak. I was told by e-mail that these parts would be delayed. So I built the rest of the system without these optional but important parts. For testing, I still had the circuit breaker in the box. I left space for the fuse boxes once they arrived, and wired them in once they arrived. The DIN 35 parts are like building blocks; I mounted the wires, installed the fuses, then clipped the boxes onto the rail.
Mechanical problems were my next challenge. The original motor was about 50 percent larger than the new motor, and the mounting holes were further apart. At the beginning of the project I took the large cast iron frame to my shop and drilled and tapped four new mounting holes for the replacement motor. That left the new motor about one inch lower than the original. After installing the electric box and all of its connections, I put the drive belt back on, and it was too loose by about one inch (surprise!). The motor mount can be moved, but not enough to make up for the slack created by moving the motor down as I did. I had several possible solutions: 1 – move the motor up (couldn’t do this because the old holes were in the way), 2 – modify the mount plate (couldn’t do this because of the details in the iron casting), or 3 – get a shorter drive belt. This proved to be the best option because they are relatively easy to get, and the 1935 drive belt is well-worn. I ordered a two-inch (circumference) smaller drive belt from McMaster-Carr, the industrial hardware company in Los Angeles.
Another mechanical problem was that the new motor has a larger drive shaft than the old one did. I took the 5.5 inch phenolic pulley off the old motor and took it to a local machine shop to have it machined to the larger diameter, and keyed for the new shaft. This took a few days, but was expertly done. I installed the modified pulley on the new motor and it fits with precision.
Now all that is left is to install that belt and test the machine. I’m sure I’m not finished yet, as I have not cycled the machine under power yet. Once the new motor and all of its fittings are in place I will do that. I hope that there are no more problems, but I will not be surprised if there are. It is, after all, a machine that once worked in production, was then put out to pasture for several decades, then revived.
What will I do with the machine when it’s complete? I will sew books, of course! More on that in a future blog.
My current obsession is the restoration of a 1935 Smyth book sewing machine in the Shakespeare Press Museum at Cal Poly (I am the faculty advisor). That machine sews the spines of hard-cover books. It’s a pretty good bet that every production case-bound book in the world is made with Smyth book sewing machines.
The machine in question is on very-long-term loan from the California Department of General Services. It was used for many years to bind books produced by the State Office of Printing. When they no longer needed it, they put it in a glass case in their lobby, where it sat for many years as an antique curiosity.
Two summers ago I paid a drayage company a tremendous amount of money to move the machine to Cal Poly. They broke the glass case, which didn’t matter.
A Smyth machine weighs in at just under a ton. It’s difficult to move without damaging the machine because its many cams hang below a common main shaft that runs laterally under the machine. Lifting and moving it requires jacks and solid steel rollers. The most difficult part was getting it off of the pallet. The machine was lifted into the air with jacks and 4×4 timbers, then the pallet was taken out from underneath. Once that was done, the machine was carefully lowered onto blocks of wood on the corners.
Moving it into position was relatively easy. I used “crabs” which are like small steel skateboards with solid wheels. Once in position, it had to be lifted off of the crabs, then gingerly lowered onto the floor. Dropping a machine like this – even an inch – can be fatal. We managed to get it to the concrete floor with long steel pry bars and ever-thinner slips of wood. The last quarter-inch was announced with a bang, but nothing was damaged.
Since the machine had been sitting for years in a glass case, it was in beautiful condition. No rust, no dust, but also no movement. The lubricants in the machine had solidified, and the mechanism was inoperative as a result. The main clutch was frozen, the delivery table gears were stuck. It was, internally, a no-go mechanism. It was also missing a couple of key parts. Two long springs are normally on the bottom of the cam followers, ending on a center foot of the machine. One of those springs was missing. I tried to order one, but couldn’t find any the correct size, so I went to McMaster-Carr in Los Angeles, and they quoted $275 for a single spring to be custom manufactured. Another custom spring maker in Los Angeles quoted $750 for one spring.
Then I called Smyth, whose headquarters had moved from the original Hartford, Connecticut home to a new facility in South Carolina. After a couple of tries, I reached Jennifer at Smyth who told me that, yes, they still stock that part (they still use the same part in modern Smyth machines). Yes I could order one, but, she cautioned me, “We have a $25 minimum order.” She suggested that I buy two of the springs at $7.95 each, and then buy something else that I might need for the machine. I bought 100 needles and 100 crochet hooks, and two springs, and I spent about $125.00. I am now outfitted for the next decade for needles and hooks. The springs fit perfectly; I had them installed in minutes.
Getting the machine turning was more challenging. The State Printing Office sent a technician to San Luis Obispo to help (it is their machine, after all). He was successful in getting the main clutch turning again, and he and I got the main shaft turning. My friend Bill and I got the feed table gears freed-up with lots of back-and-forth and a lot of penetrating oil. Now it’s moving smoothly again.
The original motor, a 1/2 HP Westinghouse 208 volt 3-phase motor was not in good condition, so I decided to scrap it and start over on motive power. And therein lies the root of my current obsession. The original motor had a speed control that was made in 1935. That speed control consists of huge wire-wound resistors with multiple taps in the middle, connected to a series of copper contacts that are touched by a rotating lever on the control panel. It was old and it no longer was worked correctly. The technician from the State Printing Office also said it was dangerous, so the decision to replace it was made easier. I always strive for historic accuracy, but in this case I chose safety over authenticity. The machine itself is still historically accurate.
I decided to replace the motor with a modern 1 HP 3-phase sealed motor. These are common and easy to install and wire. The problem was the speed control. The motor I bought runs at a nominal 1340 rpm. I need something much slower for this machine, probably 500 rpm.
On machines of this type it’s common to see mechanical variable-speed pulleys (our Heidelberg Windmill press has this type of speed control). I couldn’t use that because the main clutch is encased inside the main flywheel, which is also the main drive wheel. There is no practical way to engineer this without making a secondary pulley system; that was too complicated. So I decided to use an electronic motor speed control instead.
Last year I began the restoration of an 1895 Pearl press, a treadle-powered letterpress that was donated to the Cal Poly Shakespeare Press Museum.
That press was a rusty machine when we took delivery of it. I took it to my shop, disassembled it, then sand-blasted the parts and repainted it. After the pieces were repainted, I pin-striped some of the parts then reassembled the press. It was missing some key parts, which I replaced with new ones.
Finding new parts for an 1895 press was surprisingly easy. There are several people who manufacture castings for the machines, and another fellow who makes modern ink rollers that fit the press perfectly. I bought those and installed them on the machine. It needed new springs, which I hand-wound. I surface-ground the ink distribution plate, and had a welder repair the platen, which was mysteriously broken on its corners.
The hardest part to replace has been the main drive gear, which I could not find. I hired a machinist friend to make one for me. The original has several missing teeth, and had been repaired, badly, several times since 1895. That new gear is still not finished, but it will be soon (wishful thinking always works!).
I built new woodwork for the press including the feed and delivery tables, two new drawers for the base, and I added something the original press never had – a drawer cover. Since the drawers are directly under the main parts of the press, solvent, ink and lost paper will occasionally fall down into the press, and I want those not to fall into the top drawer. I machined an ampersand into the drawer top in the same style as the lettering in the press castings. It’s a nice touch.
Meanwhile, I drew an illustration of the Golding Pearl No. 3 press, working from a parts drawing in the original instruction manual. I made the illustration into a poster, which has not yet been printed, and a postcard, which I finished this week. Details about the color separations for the postcard are described in my previous post.
I had my five zinc engravings made for the press run, and I set up the first color – light blue – on the Heidelberg Windmill press (not the Golding; it’s still in the shop). Also, printing with precise register on the Golding would be extraordinarily difficult; that press does not have the precision of a Windmill.
I have never run a multicolor job on a Heidelberg Windmill before. In fact I have only run a Windmill for embossing and die-cutting jobs. I had never put ink on a Windmill press in my life. So this was going to be my first printing job on the Windmill, and my first precision register job at the same time. I like a challenge!
The press runs began five weeks ago on a Friday. I have a few open hours in my Friday schedule, and I used those to work on the postcard. I bought some 100% cotton Neenah paper for the job, but then switched to a paper that has a bit more bulk for this project. I’ll use the Neenah paper for the poster that I’ll begin soon.
I also ordered Pantone colors from Van Son Holland Ink for four of the five colors of the job. The final color would be gold, and I had five pounds of gold on hand.
The Heidelberg Windmill press is most often run “without guides” (one of its two operating modes). This means that the windmill arms of the press pick up the paper from the center of the feed table, and continue to hold the paper while it is printed, then the arms carry the paper to the delivery stack where each sheet is dropped after being printed. That’s the “commercial” (easy) way to run the press.
The other mode is “with guides” where the windmill arm picks up the sheet from the left edge of the feed table, carries the sheet into the press, then drops the sheet onto brass register guides at the bottom of the platen. The press then moves those guides up and to the right, registering each sheet precisely against the bottom two, and one side guide for register. After the impression, the windmill arm grabs the sheet a second time, and carries it up to the delivery table and drops it there. “With guides” is the only way to print with precision on this machine. It’s much more difficult, so most people don’t bother. I bothered.
Running the first color was easy, since I wasn’t trying to register anything to anything else. It was just a press run. I was careful to be sure that the image was in the right place on the sheet, and was not moving from sheet to sheet.
The second Friday I added light gray to the postcard. This color had to be perfectly registered to the first, of course. There is a thick light gray border that kisses the light blue. It made it easy for me to see if register was perfect, and it was.
The third Friday I ran a dark gray ink, which registered with the light gray in the press illustration, but not along the border. The run went well, though if I had it to do over I would mix some transparent white into the dark gray to lighten it a bit. It’s too close to black for my taste.
On the fourth Friday I ran the black, which put a trapped border on the edge, and inserted crisp lettering into the title and the detailed lettering at the bottom of the card. The black looks good, but again I wish I had printed the dark gray a little lighter (I’ll fix that when I run the poster). The black was designed to trap the other colors where it overprints, and it did that admirably.
The final Friday arrived and I put the metallic gold ink on the press. This color carries all of the fine detail of the illustration – the springs, the gear teeth, the pin-striping. I got it to register quite quickly (three trips to to composing stone for small adjustments of position). And it looks glorious! The gold makes the press look absolutely wonderful.
Along the way I had to make some very small adjustments to register the sheets on the press. These adjustments are facilitated by two small screws on the vertical, and one screw on the side guide. The Heidelberg only allows for 4 points (0.0552 in. of 1.4 mm) total movement on the vertical guides, and slightly less on the horizontal guide. At the beginning of each press run I centered those guide screws so that I had the maximum movement available both up and down. The side guide is harder to adjust, so I left it alone, choosing to move the plate in the chase with my paper strips instead.
Once in register, the press stays in register. This machine, now 66 years old, runs like new. And when it runs, it makes a delightful symphony of sounds. The air compressor (a large piston pump on the right-rear of the machine) sounds like exaggerated breathing. There are many clanks and pops and whooshes as the windmill arms take the sheets to the press and out again. I love running this machine because it’s a work of mechanical perfection.
Now I have a stack of beautifully printed five-color postcards. I suppose I have to put something on the other side and mail them!
My plan is to use them to invite all of our former student curators to a dinner in honor of the museum’s 50th anniversary. And, after that I will use them to invite people to an event in January to celebrate International Graphic Communication Week.
I’ll keep a handful unprinted on the back, and I will frame one for the wall of the museum. After all, with this job I have created a work of art.
I am an old prepress guy. I owned one of the first PostScript service bureaus in the U.S. I was there at the beginning. It was painful, but overall it was a great business. We had been traditional typographers, and then we adopted the Macintosh and PostScript, and we prospered.
Over the years I developed a skill for reading and modifying PPD files so that our Linotronic machines could output materials that otherwise would not run. A PPD is a PostScript Printer Description file, all text, that describes the capabilities of a printer – its dimensions, color capabilities, resolution and more. These files are still in use in our print drivers. Though archaic, they still perform these functions so that the software knows the capabilities of the printer.
I am working on a cool project right now that involves prepress in a way that I have not explored in years.
It’s actually two projects. First is the restoration of an 1895 Golding Pearl printing press. This was part of a collection of printing equipment that was donated to our university by a local family. Their dad had collected the equipment, and stored it (and occasionally printed on some of it) in his two-car garage. When he died, it became a problem. I helped to solve that problem with the aid of friends from the International Printing Museum in Carson, California. In the end, some of the equipment came to Cal Poly’s Shakespeare Press Museum while the rest went to the larger museum further south.
I got the rusted Pearl press. It has taken me about a year to restore it. First I tore it down to its parts, then I sand-blasted all of the castings, and repainted them. This was followed by a careful reassembly. I replaced missing parts with replica parts, I built all new wooden parts – the drawers, feed and delivery tables. My greatest challenge was the main drive gear, which was missing several teeth. A machinist friend found a gear blank and then machined it to match the original part on the press. It took months to find the blank, then several months to get the new one made.
And now the press is ready to print again, 124 years after its manufacture.
Project Two is a poster and postcard to commemorate the restored press as part of the 50th anniversary of Shakespeare Press Museum, Cal Poly’s working museum of letterpress machines and type.
I started by drawing from a blueprint of the original press from the parts catalog of the manufacturer. I did this in Adobe Illustrator. As I was rebuilding the press I took photos, and was careful to adjust the drawing to the reality of the printing press. It was detailed work, and the result is a an accurate side drawing of the machine with all of its working parts shown.
My plan is to print this art as a five-color poster, and a five-color postcard. The postcard will be printed first, on the Heidelberg Windmill press that I restored earlier in the year (not the press illustrated in this story). That machine, a “black ball” 1953 press, is now in perfect condition, having suffered from many abusive years in a Calgary printing plant while die-cutting parking permit hang-tags. The press wasn’t even oiled for many years, and it was in bad shape when I bought it from a machinery dealer in 2015. Several years of restoration work allowed me to bring the machine back to perfect condition.
I have run the Heidelberg press only a couple of times since its restoration, so jumping in with a five-color precise register job will be challenging. But I have the will, and will find a way.
The poster is planned for later in the year. I will print that on our Vandercook proof press with photopolymer plates. It should be a nice product.
To print the postcard, I needed to make either photopolymer or zinc printing plates. I started with the photopolymer plates and had difficulty with those (still experimenting!). I decided to order zinc plates from an engraving company in Michigan. That’s where I ran into color separation problems that I had not encountered for years.
For the photopolymer plates, I used ESKO Artwork software, starting with a PDF file, then made a film negative on the ESKO Spark platemaker. Easy. I exposed the polymer plates in our DuPont Cyrel UV unit, and hand-processed them using water and a brush. This didn’t work well (still experimenting!).
To send out for engravings, I needed to separate the file into five separate Adobe Illustrator files. It seemed easy, but I had difficulty doing it. The company doing the engraving cannot separate from a composite color PDF. I tested; I tried; I failed. Several times.
And ultimately, I found myself working with PPD files again.
When you set PostScript file as the destination, the computer will default to a generic “universal” PPD for PostScript. That PPD will not work for color separations because “universal” is not a color-capable printer. Instead, you must choose the PPD for a color printer. I think any color printer will work. I have a Konica-Minolta printer here, and when I choose that PPD, my Illustrator document can be separated into individual colors, each one a separate file.
It was this process that allowed me to save each color as a separate Illustrator file, and to submit them to the engraver.
It’s not a one-step process. Using Illustrator’s Ink Manager, I exported each color plate as a separate PostScript file, then dragged each PostScript file onto Illustrator to open it. Then I had to crop the image to the artwork size (the page is letter-size by default). Once cropped, I had only to Save As in Illustrator format and send the files to the engraver.
Another rookie mistake I made was to send files with embedded fonts in them (it has been a long time!). After being alerted to this error, I converted the fonts into outlines, and saved again, then sent the repaired files back to the engraver. It worked perfectly the second time.
I now have five zinc engravings of my artwork, ready for printing. I will begin that process next week. My plan is to ink-up the Heidelberg Windmill, apply the lightest color of ink to the press, and make the first impressions. I’m making a 500-impression press run. Then I will let the sheets dry for a day and proceed to the darkest color (black), followed at the end by metallic gold.
I’ll post images here of the press run and will report back on how that press run works out.
p.s. For those who think I might be plagiarizing David Lance Goines with this press poster, I assure you that this is a coincidence! The fact that one of his wonderful posters hangs above my desk proves only that I am channeling him with this work.
p.p.s. You may be wondering why I am not printing the five-color postcard on the Golding Pearl press. Simple: though it is a lovely machine, it is not capable of holding precise register. The Heidelberg has register guides to hold the paper in position while printing. Those register controls make this kind of work possible.