Comments on Dead Media Working Note 49.5
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From: Judyth Mermelstein
Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2001 06:57:23 -0500

Unfortunately I am unable to add anything about the Contoura, which I never came across, except that it sounds like the sort of device that would have been useful to foreign correspondents (not to mention the more amateurish spies) during my early childhood.

On the other hand, I can offer a little information on another, later but equally little-known portable photocopier which I owned until a couple of years ago but which seems to have gone astray the last time I moved. In the early 1970s, there was an issue of either Popular Mechanics or Popular Electronics (probably the latter) which contained an article describing how to make a personal photocopier. Several months later, I noticed an ad indicating that some braver soul had starting making and selling them, for a price which seemed reasonable even with the shipping charges and customs duty (I'm in Canada) so I ordered one. The ad ceased to run shortly thereafter but my copier was still working as of 4-5 years ago. (My memory, alas, is starting to go a bit so I remember neither the name of the maker nor the details of the chemical process involved, and I can't check it.)

The machine itself was extremely simple -- like the Contoura, it was in effect a plastic light-box. It was about 12" wide and 4-5" in height and depth, with a strong fluorescent tube inside. One opened the lid and fed through a "sandwich" consisting of a special backing sheet (opaque plastic), a sheet of treated paper, and the page to be copied. This material followed a curved path and emerged, after which one took the exposed copy and sprayed it lightly with an aerosol can of developing solution. The writing on the developed copy had a slightly brownish cast but was quite dark and legible.

It was a slow and somewhat awkward business to feed the sheets through and, of course, by that time it was possible to make better copies more easily on the machines at the university library or in somebody's very up-to-date office, so I only used my little machine for emergency copies -- last-minute tax returns and such -- which is no doubt why the original supply of developer and paper lasted so long.

Interestingly, the machine was itself every bit as efficient as those early desktop 3M copiers where one had to feed each treated-paper copy through twice, and the copies I made have actually held up better than those made on the large roll-fed treated-paper copiers I used and maintained in a variety of office jobs -- and whose chemicals irritated my hands and lungs a lot more than the stuff in the spray-can. I wouldn't mind getting another one of those "personal copiers" even now, if somebody could dig up the plans and start producing them again.


Judyth Mermelstein

(still thrilled at the ability to produce multiple copies of anything without resorting to carbon paper, eraser-wheels and cursing)

From: Alex Kashko
Date: Wed, 9 May 2001 02:32:08 -0700 (PDT)

One medium I've not seen since the days when Marconi Space and Defence used comptometers for number crunching and electronic calculateors required a director's signature is light sensitive paper.

This came in long rolls of springy thick pink paper in varying widths. The paper spooled through a recording device. The output device of the recording instrument would typically be a galvanometer that played a spot of light onto the moving light sensitive paper.

At the bottom of the paper were marks indicating "century time", the date and time accurate to milliseconds. These were also produced optically. I can't recall where the time came from.

The paper was pink but turned purple where the galvanometer beam hit it. Trying to take measurements from it was hell on the eyes since the trace was fuzzy and the contrast low. Sometimes it was necessary to use a Gerber variable ruler - a spring with attached ruler like markings that stretched to the full potential extent of the beam, allowing one to read percentage of full scale deflection of the galvo without difficulty.

If the paper was rolled up or kept in the dark the trace remained indefinitely (i.e the paper became unstable first) but it faded after (as I recall) less than an hour's exposure to light as the paper turned purple all over.

The main use was for printing out analogue telemetry data.

Another thing I have not seen recently is the Banda copier, for making copies of documents from a stencil. I don't know if this has been mentioned in the notes, but it involved tying the stencil to a drum. The operation was left to secretaries so I can't tell you more.