Writer’s Diary #24: A 21st Century Typewriter

Ezra Klein has a great interview with Tom Hanks. It starts with Klein and Hanks talking typewriters. I loved it.

One detail, the custom-made typewriter desk Hanks had built. Another, the fact that he writes a quick letter to his wife, running out the door at 6:30 in the morning. I wondered, could I do that?

Part of it is the instantaneous nature. Type and then its text.

One challenge, I don’t have a good old fashioned typewriter. I have a bad old fashioned typewriter. But, frankly, I find it too hard to type on. I mean, it’s hard as in it’s physically difficult for my fingers. In addition, the ribbon has dried up again, and some letters need to be repaired. I don’t have a working typewriter, and even when it works, three of the letters don’t work very well.

Still, a year and a half ago, I splurged and bought a rather expensive, but nice, FreeWrite Smart Typewriter. I enjoy it. At times, when writing material for the books, it’s rather useful to get ideas down.

The problem for the purpose of writing a letter to my wife, it produces text files synced to the cloud.

What Hanks got me thinking about was how could I use that to print directly.

So, yesterday, I turned to ChatGPT. I’m familiar enough with the UNIX terminal to read code and understand how things work, but I’ve never been good at writing code. I can’t do much by myself.

However, with ChatGPT, I’ve was able to put together a small script, in just a couple of hours of iteration. ChatGPT and I wrote a bash script to convert a text file in a synced Dropbox folder from the FreeWrite. It takes the markdown text, then converts it to a PDF using LaTex with a nice simple typewriter font.

It works well, if I have a computer running. It was really gratifying to have a tangible letter, that took only a few seconds to write, and no computer.

It was a letter to my wife.

If anyone wants to be inspired, here it is:

It’s worth noting that I had to install MacTeX to make it work, so this is my first real use of LaTeX.

Looking to the future, I’m planning to try hooking the script to ChatGPT via the API, to automatically spell-check and grammar-check a letter before it’s printed.

That would be cool. Next time.