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Actor and typewriter aficionado Tom Hanks says typing on a typewriter "is only a softer version of chiseling words into stone." (iStockphoto.com)

In Tom Hanks' iPad App, Typewriters Make Triumphant Return (Ding!)

by NPR Staff
Sep 2, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Three typewriters from Hanks' personal collection were used as inspiration for the design of the new app. "It makes me work a little slower," Hanks says -- and that's a good thing.

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Tom Hanks' love affair with typewriters began in the 1970s, with his first proper typewriter — a Hermes 2000. Typewriters are "beautiful works of art," he tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "And I've ended up collecting them from every ridiculous source possible."

Hanks admits he started his collection when he had a "little excess cash" but, he points out, it's "better to spend it on $50 typewriters than some of the other things you can blow show-business money on."

The obsession has now resulted in an app called Hanx Writer: For iPad users who are nostalgic for the clickety-clack of key strokes and "ding!" of the carriage return, Hanx Writer will type and print documents just like an old manual typewriter. The design of the app, which Hanks created with the developer Hitcents, was based on typewriters from Hanks' own collection.

As for whether version 2.0 will have a white-out option? "That would be funny," Hanks says.


Interview Highlights

On differences from modern word processing — such as the function of backspace and delete

On the app, you can't just hold down the button and it deletes line after line. You literally have to do it one at a time: tuk, tuk, tuk, tuk. ... Or you can just not care and just go on with whatever horrible syntax you happen to personally use.

When I use my manual typewriter, I'm merciless with the "X"-ing out key. And sometimes it's nice ... when you're typing a letter on the app just to maintain that false Luddite sensibility. It's kind of like when you take a video and you add onto it the scratchy 8mm filter that you can download. ... It's not authentic in any way other than the way it appears.

On how using the app changes the writing process

It makes me work a little slower, and when you work a little slower, you work a little bit more accurately. ... I like operating a little bit slower. Now, the only thing I get from this app is the sound and the speed. What I really, truly miss is the physical trail that typing usually gives you. Typing on an actual typewriter on paper is only a softer version of chiseling words into stone.

On whether this is a gateway typewriter experience for a new generation

I think in a lot of ways much of what ... the app makers out there are discovering [are] these kind of like backdoor Luddite habits. The amount of cool things you can do with a photographic app now to make it look like anything from a daguerreotype from the 1860s to a Polaroid from 1972 — that gives it a patina. And because you've paid attention to it a little bit more, you haven't just taken a picture and sent it off, that means it becomes some sort of artistic expression.

On the trade-offs

If you do want to adhere to a couple of arcane rules in which speed and volume might be sacrificed a little bit — but the advantages that you get of more of a relaxed pace and a specific look to it — to me that's a wonderful trade-off.

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Cookie Monster and John Oliver anchor a special report on words. (YouTube)

John Oliver And Cookie Monster, On The News Beat

Sep 2, 2014

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Three typewriters from Hanks' personal collection were used as inspiration for the design of the new app. "It makes me work a little slower," Hanks says -- and that's a good thing.

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Just in time for back-to-school season, funny newsman John Oliver and incorrigible consumer Cookie Monster are co-anchoring a news special on words, in a video that includes appearances by Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon and weatherman Al Roker.

Sharing the anchor desk of W-ORD News, Oliver and Cookie Monster banter about the silent "b" in crumb and puzzle over the length of the word "abbreviation." In another highlight, Roker adapts his forecast to warn of the arrival of the word "hangry" across most of the Midwest this week.

The segment is part of a series of collaborations between the makers of Sesame Street and the website Mashable.

"This project is in support of Sesame Street's Words Are Here, There and Everywhere, a fantastic digital resource that encourages families to explore the world of words all around them," Mashable's Matt Silverman writes.

As you might expect, things can go off the rails when Cookie Monster is on the set - a point driven home by a clip of outtakes.

"Thank you, Cookie," Oliver tells his partner. "You're a great hype man."

On a final note, we'll mention that the credits show the segment's two stars received equal treatment on the set:

"Production Assistance & Stand-In for Mr. Oliver: Eric Larson
"Production Assistance & Stand-In for Mr. Monster: Noah Sterling"

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Cookie Monster and John Oliver anchor a special report on words. (YouTube)

State Dept. Officials Work To Verify Islamic State's Beheading Video

Sep 2, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Three typewriters from Hanks' personal collection were used as inspiration for the design of the new app. "It makes me work a little slower," Hanks says -- and that's a good thing.

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In a new video released by the militant group Islamic State, American journalist Steven Sotloff appears to be killed by extremists associated with the group. U.S. officials are working to determine the video's authenticity.

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Cookie Monster and John Oliver anchor a special report on words. (YouTube)

New U.S. Rules Protect Giant Bluefin Tuna

Sep 2, 2014

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Three typewriters from Hanks' personal collection were used as inspiration for the design of the new app. "It makes me work a little slower," Hanks says -- and that's a good thing.

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In an effort to reduce the number of giant bluefin tuna killed by fishing fleets, the U.S. is putting out new rules about commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the western Atlantic. The rules have special protections for giant bluefin — fish that have grown to 81 inches or more.

The new requirements were recently published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a nearly 750 page amendment to its management plan. The agency hopes the changes will help rebuild the tuna population and improve data it gets from fishing vessels.

As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports for our Newscast unit, commercial fleets in the gulf cannot target giant bluefin tuna, whose numbers have fallen since the 1970s. The gulf is of crucial importance, as it is the fish's breeding ground.

"But fishing fleets can harvest other types of tuna and large fish using long-lines. These are lines loaded with hooks that float below the surface and can run 30 miles long. They often accidentally hook and kill giant bluefin tuna.

"The new rules will lower the allowable number of these accidental killings, called 'by-catch.' They also will require video cameras on fishing vessels to record full-time what's being caught. The rules cover long-line fishing in the Gulf and parts of the Atlantic coast."

The new rules were welcomed by the Pew Charitable Trusts' ocean conservation unit, with director Lee Crockett saying, "NOAA Fisheries deserves great praise for significantly increasing protections for bluefin while allowing fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish to continue."

The group also lists some of the things that sets the bluefin apart:

"They're as fast as racehorses, bring fishermen to their knees, and grow to the size of a small car. These 'superfish' make transoceanic migrations, can dive deeper than 4,000 feet, and live up to 40 years."

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Page County Sheriff John Thomas's department received an MRAP in May. (NPR)

Should Local Police Get The Military's Extra Armored Trucks?

Sep 2, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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An MRAP at the High Springs Police Department in High Springs, Fla.

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Mine-resistant ambush-protected troop carriers, known as MRAPs, were built to withstand bomb blasts. They can weigh nearly 20 tons, and many U.S. troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are alive today because of them. But many of the vehicles are now considered military surplus, so thanks to a congressionally mandated Pentagon program, they're finding their way to hundreds of police and sheriff's departments.

The Pentagon gave John Thomas, sheriff of Page County, Va., a gigantic MRAP — meant to withstand roadside bombs in Iraq — in May.

As he drives through the Shenandoah Valley, Thomas says he did give some thought to getting one. "When we looked at acquiring the MRAP, I looked very strongly at the public, political opinions and political climate," he says.

Thomas says he knew some might question why Page County needed an MRAP. "And I knew that there was a lot of anti-use of military equipment by police forces. But what most people don't understand is that an MRAP is nothing but a truck with a big bulletproof box on it. There is no offensive — the ones that we get — there is no offensive capability."

And with all the guns out there in the hands of dangerous people his department sometimes has to deal with, Thomas says it's well worth having the added protection of a bulletproof MRAP. "I've been shot myself. I have seen slugs go through the driver door of my car, through my radio console, and out the passenger door. And it sure would've been nice to have an armored vehicle between me and the individual that was shooting at me, rather than just having a car that was being shot up like a stick of butter."

About 10 miles down a road from the county seat of Luray, where the sheriff has his headquarters, stands a landfill. On it is a large metal shed that houses Page County's hulking, desert-beige MRAP.

A tag on the front of the 39,000-pound MRAP says the vehicle's worth $733,000 — but all Page County had to pay was the cost of shipping it from a refurbishing plant in Texas. Sheriff Thomas says for this rural county's 25,000 inhabitants, it was a good deal.

"Is it overkill? Yeah, it is. I mean, for our use, it's more armor than we need. But, it's free," he says.

A fat exhaust pipe belches diesel smoke when a sheriff's deputy starts up the vehicle. The sheriff says since the day it arrived, it has not been out on the road — and it won't be until some of his deputies get trained to drive it and the passenger hold is modified to carry stretchers for search and rescue missions.

"We want to get this vehicle fully outfitted to show the public what it can actually do, besides just being some type of big, military-looking vehicle. One thing we're not going to do is paint it black," Thomas says.

What it's really for, Thomas says, is to give his officers better and safer access to situations they respond to — whether it's elderly people stranded in a flooded hollow, a school shooting, or a raid on a rural methamphetamine lab. The sheriff says although he informed the county supervisor of plans to acquire the MRAP, no public hearings were held.

"Now if people have questions about it, I offer myself anytime they want and if the public would like to discuss it, I'd be more than happy to discuss it," he says.

At a national level, images from Ferguson, Mo. of rifle-toting police using armored vehicles has raised a lot of questions about why the Pentagon is handing over MRAPs and other war material to local law enforcement:

"It certainly does seem to be a case of overkill," says Kara Dansky of the American Civil Liberties Union. She says law enforcement officials are getting weaponry they never would have otherwise acquired. "We think that local governments can and should demand public hearings when local police want to apply to the Pentagon to receive military equipment."

Over the past year, the Pentagon's given away more than 600 MRAPs. In June, the sheriff of Bergen County, N.J. requested two MRAPs.

That angered the top executive of Bergen County, Kathleen Donovan. "Thank God we don't have mines on the streets of Bergen County. And so so why do we need an MRAP? It's not a rescue vehicle, as portrayed by some, it's the wrong message to send to all of our communities and we're a very diverse county. There's just no reason for it, and nobody can figure out why we should have it."

Bergen County sheriff Michael Saudino now says he won't use the MRAPs until the U.S. and New Jersey attorneys general review the military surplus program.

"I just felt that I would take a step back, you know, before putting this thing into service and see what their suggestions are. It's not going to stop me from obtaining the vehicle."

Several law enforcement agencies that have received MRAPs are going further, though — they're sending theirs back to the Pentagon.

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