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Archive for April, 2011

The Google Acquisition Which Nearly Screwed Your Travel Plans

You’ve prob­a­bly done it yourself.

You’re plan­ning a trip or hotel stay and you’re using a travel site like Expe­dia, Hotwire, KAYAK, or any num­ber of other web­sites.  Unknown to you, many of these sites are pow­ered by soft­ware called “QPX” which is made by a com­pany called ITA Soft­ware out of Mass­a­chu­setts.  The soft­ware is so good, even the air­lines them­selves use it.

Well, last year, Google wanted to buy ITA Soft­ware. Now, there’s noth­ing wrong with that, the prob­lem was that since Google is “GOD of Inter­net Search,” it could manip­u­late its algo­rithm to favor cer­tain travel web­sites, or worse, cre­ate their own travel search site (which is rumored), and slowly stran­gle the competition.

Obvi­ously, such con­cerns made their way to the Jus­tice Department’s Anti-Trust Divi­sion and a process was worked outGoogle liked it since they got to buy ITA, a group called “FairSearch.org” made up of a coali­tion of the top travel sites liked it say­ing the rul­ing was a plus for consumers.

A few days ago, a legal expert at Forbes made the rul­ing from ear­lier this month sound like English:

What are the take­aways from DOJ’s action here?  Some thoughts:

1. On exclu­sion­ary con­duct. Even though this wasn’t for­mally a hor­i­zon­tal merger, some expert com­men­ta­tors won­dered whether DOJ would embrace a new part of the government’s Hor­i­zon­tal Merger Guide­lines which flagged future exclu­sion as a fac­tor in assess­ing a com­bi­na­tion.  It’s unclear whether the Guide­lines had any role in DOJ’s analy­sis, but reg­u­la­tors paid atten­tion to the con­cerns of online com­peti­tors and users of the QPX soft­ware that a merged entity could deny them access to updates, refuse to con­tinue licens­ing, or fail to pro­tect pro­pri­etary infor­ma­tion con­tained in ITA servers.  Antitrust offi­cials fol­lowed the approach they took in the approval of the NBC-Comcast joint ven­ture, deal­ing with future con­cerns of exclu­sion­ary con­duct by com­pelling coop­er­a­tive mar­ket­place behavior.

2. Com­pul­sory licens­ing as a viable rem­edy. As noted in our Feb­ru­ary post, some experts expressed seri­ous doubts about whether a com­pul­sory licens­ing scheme could be imple­mented to fore­stall future exclu­sion­ary con­duct.  DOJ didn’t share those con­cerns, lay­ing out a remark­ably detailed set of terms.  Under those terms, over the next five years,  Google “shall nego­ti­ate” an exten­sion for QPX licenses for cur­rent licensees and any future licensees; may not pre­vent QPX licensees from using com­pet­ing soft­ware prod­ucts; must pro­vide updates “with­out addi­tional charge;” and shall main­tain ITA’s cur­rent finan­cial com­mit­ment to upgrad­ing QPX, and “make com­mer­cially rea­son­able efforts to respond to Cus­tomers’ requests for devel­op­ment of QPX.”  One very impor­tant addi­tional term requires the merged entity to nego­ti­ate agree­ments to uti­lize “InstaSearch,” a new travel search tech­nol­ogy ITA was devel­op­ing at the time of the merger.  Finally, to allay QPX users’ wor­ries about Google hav­ing access to con­fi­den­tial data, the agree­ment com­pels cre­ation of a hard fire­wall to pro­tect such infor­ma­tion.  All these con­di­tions have mul­ti­ple lev­els of qual­i­fiers and require­ments full of terms like “fair” and “rea­son­able,” which are very much open to inter­pre­ta­tion and debate.  Those debates may play out in the detailed arbi­tra­tion process the set­tle­ment lays out to be uti­lized if licen­sor and licensee can’t come to agreement.

3. “Fair­ness” in travel search results not a fac­tor.  In addi­tion to exclu­sion from the QPX licens­ing, com­peti­tors and oth­ers, includ­ing U.S. Sen­a­tor Herb Kohl, argued that post-merger, Google could uti­lize its dom­i­nant posi­tion in Inter­net searches to push com­peti­tors’ offer­ings down the list of search results.   Quite notably, nei­ther the Com­plaint nor the Pro­posed Final Judg­ment address these wor­ries, but …

4.  Five years of “com­pli­ance inspec­tions.” This is the main rea­son why enti­ties like Fair Search aren’t too dis­ap­pointed with the end result.  Upon writ­ten request of DOJ, Antitrust Divi­sion attor­neys can access Google records, inter­view employ­ees, and require Google to con­duct inter­nal audits.  Will Antitrust Divi­sion offi­cials uti­lize this access to learn more about Google’s busi­ness prac­tices, to lift the prover­bial veil on their search and adver­tis­ing tech­nolo­gies? That is the hope of some, includ­ing travel search com­peti­tor Kayak, one of whose exec­u­tives stated, “There’s quite a lot more to hap­pen on this.”

5. What “more” is going to hap­pen?  Could alle­ga­tions of travel search manip­u­la­tion be exam­ined under the rubric of the merger set­tle­ment con­sent decree?  Unlikely. More likely, DOJ’s inter­ven­tion into the ITA merger will whet the appetites of fed­eral antitrust reg­u­la­tors, whose job it is, after all, to reg­u­late.  Per­haps now they will take the next, much larger step into inves­ti­gat­ing whether Google uses its search and search adver­tis­ing dom­i­nance to under­mine pro-consumer com­pe­ti­tion online.  If so, we will be treated to the spec­ta­cle of bat­tling agen­cies, as some press accounts relate, with DOJ and FTC fight­ing over who will be the Big Google Overlord.

Nor­mally, I’m not a fan of reg­u­la­tion of the Inter­net, espe­cially if that reg­u­la­tion is “Net Neu­tral­ity,”  but some­thing needs to be done to ensure Google isn’t using its posi­tion as the leader in search to manip­u­late the free mar­ket for con­sumers.   For all the clam­or­ing against Microsoft for the bet­ter part of the 90s as “The Evil Empire,” I’ve long thought that Google could be a real threat when it comes to a free mar­ket on the Inter­net if it could sell the “Top Search” for a phrase or word or what­ever to the high­est bidder.

What I’ve described right there is actu­ally how Google makes most of its revenue.

(Prob­a­bly in a few years, I’ll be say­ing much the same things with the way Face­book is grow­ing and expanding…)

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& Huh?” Post">The Mandatory “Truth, Justice, & Huh?” Post

As the res­i­dent “Comic Book Geek” of the Ched­dar­sphere — a title I hon­estly quit car­ing about years ago — I guess it is my place to speak about DC Comics recent deci­sion in “Action Comics #900″ to have Super­man ‘renounce’ his Amer­i­can citizenship.

The move is made after Supes goes to Iran, par­tic­i­pates in a non­vi­o­lent protest by act­ing as a pro­tec­tive guard between stu­dents and the Iran­ian mil­i­tary which irks both the Ira­ni­ans and the Amer­i­can admin­is­tra­tion — which said or did noth­ing about the protests (That sounds famil­iar…) — who either com­plain or worry his actions are con­strued as “Offi­cial Amer­i­can Action” and the Last Son of Kryp­ton is read the riot act by the Amer­i­can President’s National Secu­rity Adviser for going there in the first place.

After that, Supes says he’s only try­ing to do what’s right by the code he was raised with by Ma and Pa Kent (I per­son­ally in Supes place would have taken out the Iran­ian lead­er­ship with one of his many pow­ers, and tossed them in the near­est inter­na­tional war crimes court, not do a Ghandi imper­son­ation.  But that’s me.) and that if the world is going to see him as an “Amer­i­can Pup­pet,” he’d rather renounce his cit­i­zen­ship of his adopted coun­try on his adopted world, a move which would allow him to swoop into any coun­try he pleases and save the day with­out the diplo­matic headaches or pub­lic rela­tions hits.

Plus, he’ll be doing it all by dead­line at the Daily Planet or din­ner with Lois.  (Don’t for­get, “Faster than a speed­ing bul­let.”)

Is the over-reaction by some war­ranted? Not really.  For starters, it’s “Action Comics #900,” an anniver­sary issue so the idea that it’s canon is unlikely.  This might have just been a short ten-page story some writer wanted to get put down on paper.  It’s up to DC Comics to make it offi­cial or not.  (Their offi­cial blog doesn’t even acknowl­edge this as “The Big Event” of the issue.) Sec­ondly, it’s comics, noth­ing ever stays for­ever as the returns of both Bucky and Barry Allen in recent years has shown us.

Finally, it’s comics, WHO CARES?!?!?

That’s not to say it’s not needed.

Am I happy that polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness has hit the pages of Super­man?  No.  Super­man is the arche­type for what a super­hero should be.  That the fight for “Truth, Jus­tice, and the Amer­i­can Way” are indeed ideals worth fight­ing for and should be pro­tected by the writ­ers which DC Comics has on board keep­ing that image intact.  The prob­lem most Super­man writ­ers have today isn’t one of action, it’s one of mak­ing the story actu­ally enjoy­able on the dra­matic level for the reader.

Jonathan Last explains this best at the Weekly Standard.

From the dra­matic per­spec­tive, Super­man is a prob­lem­atic char­ac­ter because he’s just too pow­er­ful. Faster than the Flash, stronger than Won­der Woman, able to fly, x-ray vision, the heat-beam eyes, super breath—not to men­tion total and com­plete invul­ner­a­bil­ity to every­thing. (Except the kryp­tonite, of course.) If you’re writ­ing a Super­man story, it’s vir­tu­ally impos­si­ble to put him in any real jeop­ardy, to build any dra­matic ten­sion con­cern­ing his adventures.

There are only two ways to write dra­mat­i­cally sat­is­fy­ing Super­man sto­ries. The first is to put the peo­ple around him in peril. (Though you he can only save Jimmy and Lois so many times before tedium sets in.) The sec­ond is to explore Superman’s moral limits—and their consequences.

And in the end, the only truly inter­est­ing aspect of Superman’s char­ac­ter is his com­plete devo­tion to Amer­ica. Because it’s this devotion—of which his cit­i­zen­ship is the anchor—that estab­lishes all of his moral lim­its. Why does this demi-god not rule the earth accord­ing to his own will? The only sat­is­fy­ing answer is that he declines to do so because he believes in Amer­ica and has cho­sen to be an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen first and a super man second.

(Last then goes into how Dan DiDio is killing many of DC’s leg­endary iconic char­ac­ters since he came on board in 2002.  I con­cur com­pletely there.)

Superman’s love for Amer­ica is best related in iconic moments in the first two Richard Don­ner Super­man movies.  In them, we see Super­man offers his ser­vices to the Pres­i­dent in the first, and later apol­o­gizes to the Pres­i­dent at the end of the sec­ond for aban­don­ing the coun­try (for some lovin’ with Lois) while Gen­eral Zod and his acolytes take it over the world.  Maybe those were movies made in much more sim­pler times, but it was reas­sur­ing and cool know­ing “The Big, Blue Boy Scout” was on our side.

What this move is, is a slap at the intel­li­gence of Super­man fans by DC Comics and writer of the story, David S. Goyer (who has also penned all of the Christo­pher Nolan Bat­man films).  Super­man fans have known for decades he rep­re­sents the moral com­pass of the DC Uni­verse, the ral­ly­ing point for super­heroes every­where, and to say he’s ever been a “gov­ern­ment agent” is dumb and beneath the character’s core.

Super­man stands for doing what’s right, and hav­ing the morals to do just that with the immense might he pos­sesses.  That is what he was doing before the bureau­crat got in his grill, stand­ing up for what was right.

In a final thought if you want to play pol­i­tics with this, I send you to an email the Daily Caller’s Jim Treacher sent to InstaPundit’s Glenn Reynolds on the subject.

UPDATE: Jim Treacher emails: “I can’t believe they’re mak­ing Super­man a racist!  It would be one thing if he renounced his U.S. cit­i­zen­ship under The Evil George Bush.  But he waits until a black man is in charge?  Way to join the Kryp­ton­ian Klux Klan, Kal-El.”

(heh)

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CNN Anchor Her Lunch">Reince Priebus Hands CNN Anchor Her Lunch

Best part, when RNC Chair­man Reince Priebus coun­ters that it is the media which is push­ing the “Birther” issue (they are) and CNN’s Carol Costello stam­mers a defense, Reince goes, “Then why did you invite me on to talk about the birth cer­tifi­cate issue again?“

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Keynes v. Hayek, The Second Round

Another great video from the Eco­nom­ics Depart­ment at George Mason University.

My favorite part is the bril­liant take-down of the “Key­ne­sism saved us dur­ing World War II” talk­ing point. It’s impos­si­ble to say that it was a “joy­ous, eco­nomic time” dur­ing those days. You had reduced unem­ploy­ment not because gov­ern­ment was cre­at­ing work; you had reduced unem­ploy­ment because a war nat­u­rally reduced the young males in the labor force from one that was either work­ing or out of work to one that was wag­ing a war.

By the way, take a look at guy hand­ing out the money in the cut scenes.  Can’t say the resem­blance is only coincidental…

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It Had to Be on “May Day,” Huh?

Seri­ously, there is stu­pid, and then there is this.

The Wis­con­sin Gro­cers Asso­ci­a­tion has alerted mem­bers to an anti-Walker prod­uct sticker cam­paign planned for May 1.

Oppo­nents of Gov. Scott Walker for months have been boy­cotting com­pa­nies linked to dona­tions to Walker’s cam­paign.  Now there is a national effort under way to go into stores and place stick­ers on prod­ucts.

Among prod­ucts tar­geted for stick­ers are John­sonville brats, Angel­Soft toi­let paper, Sar­gento cheese and Coors beer.

The WGA has pro­duced a sign that stores can post alert­ing peo­ple that plac­ing stick­ers on prod­ucts in stores is illegal.

Of course it’s ille­gal.  It’s called prod­uct tam­per­ing and van­dal­ism. (See Wis­con­sin Statute 941.327.)

The prod­uct tam­per­ing charge car­ries more weight since you’re likely endan­ger­ing the pub­lic health if what you’re plac­ing the sticker on is a food or other per­ish­able item.

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GOP Will Close PayDay Loan Loophole">State GOP Will Close PayDay Loan Loophole

I’m actu­ally sur­prised this slipped through the cracks when the Democ­rats con­trolled the state legislature.

Inter­est rates on pay­day loans would be capped at 36 per­cent under a pro­posal Repub­li­cans are cir­cu­lat­ing in the Wis­con­sin Legislature.

New reg­u­la­tions on the pay­day lend­ing indus­try took effect in Decem­ber, but the pre­vi­ous Leg­is­la­ture con­trolled by Democ­rats rejected a cap on interest.

Con­sumer advo­cates who sup­ported tighter reg­u­la­tions on the indus­try had pushed for the inter­est rate cap, say­ing it was needed to pre­vent bor­row­ers from get­ting socked with inter­est as high as 500 per­cent or more.

The new law lim­its the size of the loans and bars auto title loans.

Rep. Evan Wynn of White­wa­ter and Sen. Glenn Groth­man of West Bend are propos­ing the inter­est rate cap.  They are seek­ing co-sponsors of the pro­posal until May 12.

Then again, the Assem­bly Speaker at the time was dat­ing a lob­by­ist from the indus­try.  (Ah, memories…)

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SETI Shuts Down Due to Lack of Funds">SETI Shuts Down Due to Lack of Funds

SETI was started years ago through a gen­er­ous dona­tion by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, one thinks he could prob­a­bly swoop in again to get them up and run­ning again.

Lack­ing the money to pay its oper­at­ing expenses, Moun­tain View’s SETI Insti­tute has pulled the plug on the renowned Allen Tele­scope Array, a field of radio dishes that scan the skies for sig­nals from extrater­res­trial civilizations.

In an April 22 let­ter to donors, SETI Insti­tute CEO Tom Pier­son said that last week the array was put into “hiber­na­tion,” safe but non­func­tion­ing, because of inad­e­quate gov­ern­ment support.

The tim­ing couldn’t be worse, say SETI sci­en­tists. After mil­len­ni­ums of mus­ings, this spring astronomers announced that 1,235 new pos­si­ble plan­ets had been observed by Kepler, a tele­scope on a space satel­lite. They pre­dict that dozens of these plan­ets will be Earth-sized — and some will be in the “hab­it­able zone,” where the tem­per­a­tures are just right for liq­uid water, a pre­req­ui­site of life as we know it.

There is a huge irony,” said SETI Direc­tor Jill Tarter, “that a time when we dis­cover so many plan­ets to look at, we don’t have the oper­at­ing funds to listen.”

SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak com­pared the project’s sus­pen­sion to “the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria being put into dry dock. “… This is about explo­ration, and we want to keep the thing oper­a­tional. It’s no good to have it sit idle.

We have the radio anten­nae up, but we can’t run them with­out oper­at­ing funds,” he added. “Hon­estly, if every­body con­tributed just 3 extra cents on their 1040 tax forms, we could find out if we have cos­mic company.”

After its cre­ation, SETI became a public-private part­ner­ship.  It’s lack of fund­ing is from the Cal­i­for­nia state gov­ern­ment cut­ting every­thing under the sun to stave off a fis­cal melt­down where it could come short of declar­ing bank­ruptcy.  The SETI folks cur­rently say they need just $5 mil­lion; which would oper­ate them for another two years.

Frankly, instead of going to the press whin­ing about a lack of tax dol­lars, they’d be more pro­duc­tive set­ting up booth at var­i­ous con­ven­tions or set­ting up pri­vate auc­tions with space and tech­nol­ogy enthusiasts .

My guess is they would raise more money that way too.

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Mike Tate Up to His Old Tricks

If a robocall’s mind-blowingly uneth­i­cal (Remem­ber this?), look no fur­ther than everyone’s favorite punk, Mike Tate, the Chair-Boy Blun­der of the Demo­c­ra­tic Party of Wisconsin.

This new call might just take the cake.

[Madi­son] — The Demo­c­rat Party of Wis­con­sin is using a fraud­u­lent tac­tic to harass and intim­i­date con­stituents who favor recall­ing Demo­c­rat Sen­a­tor Dave Hansen of Green Bay.

The Demo­c­ra­tic Party has tar­geted for harass­ment peo­ple who signed recall peti­tions against Sen­a­tor Hansen, mak­ing calls on begin­ning on Mon­day April 25th using a fake phone num­ber and caller ID that showed up on phones as “Bay Care Aurora,” a well-known Green Bay area med­ical cen­ter.  Once recall sup­port­ers answered the phone, they were told they were speak­ing with a Demo­c­rat Party of Wis­con­sin oper­a­tive, and were ques­tioned about sign­ing a peti­tion to recall Hansen.

It’s dis­gust­ing that the Dems would use a fake call from a hos­pi­tal to trick peo­ple into answer­ing their phones – only so they could harass and intim­i­date them into say­ing they did not sign a recall peti­tion,” said Mark Jef­fer­son, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Repub­li­can Party of Wis­con­sin.  “Peo­ple who received that call may have feared the worst – an unex­pected call from a hos­pi­tal can bring ter­ri­ble news about a loved one. The Democ­rats’ intent was obvi­ously to con­fuse and upset peo­ple, hop­ing they would be dis­ori­ented and eas­ily tricked into say­ing they had not signed a recall peti­tion.  Dave Hansen’s polit­i­cal career may be com­ing to an end because he fled to Illi­nois, but that doesn’t excuse this cruel, des­per­ate tactic.”

This tac­tic prob­a­bly negates all of DPW’s recent talk about RPW run­ning a “RACKET!” [Actual phras­ing from their Comms guy] in their attempt to get GOP-lead recalls against three of the Demo­c­ra­tic State Sen­a­tors tossed out.  Once again, DPW con­tin­ues to high­light there are no adults in the room help­ing to super­vis­ing the playground.

UPDATE: The Wis­con­sin Reporter says they’ve been unable to get com­ment from a spokesman at either DPW [Graeme, pick up the phone!], or Aurora Bay Care.  The lat­ter is a bit of a sur­prise for me.

UPDATE II: WTAQ is report­ing that Aurora Bay­Care is deny­ing the calls came from their offices.  This whole thing reminds me of some­thing I heard on a TV show last week, “Caller ID only tells you who they [the caller] want you to believe is calling.”

DPW tells WTAQ the whole thing as a screw-up on their telecomm provider.

About 100 calls were made that mis­tak­enly came up with Aurora Bay­Care on the caller ID. Hos­pi­tal offi­cials say the calls didn’t orig­i­nate from their build­ing or with their knowledge.

We regret this incon­ve­nience to res­i­dents. This call did not orig­i­nate from Aurora Bay­Care Med­ical Cen­ter. We have con­firmed that no out­go­ing calls were placed from this num­ber at Aurora Bay­Care Med­ical Cen­ter. We have reported this mat­ter to the police,” said Pub­lic Rela­tions Man­ager Kris­tine Lil­lie in a statement.

Those receiv­ing the calls report callers iden­ti­fied them­selves as mem­bers of the Demo­c­ra­tic Party. They indi­cated they were going through names on peti­tions turned in to deter­mine if they meant to sign the recall petition.

Demo­c­ra­tic Party of Wis­con­sin Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Direc­tor Graeme Zielin­ski says calls are being made to ver­ify the sig­na­ture on the recall peti­tion fol­low­ing up on some irregularities.

Zielin­ski says the wrong phone num­ber was typed into the sys­tem, but it was quickly corrected.

In a state­ment from Meyer Tele­ser­vices CEO Nick Gerten, “Dur­ing the ini­tial scope of our call­ing on the evening of April 25th it was brought to our atten­tion that there were dis­crep­an­cies with the caller ID infor­ma­tion being pro­vided from our site. We imme­di­ately took steps to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion and had the issue resolved. We take full respon­si­bil­ity for the error and apol­o­gize for any incon­ve­nience or added con­cern this may have caused.”

Yes, but of all the places to tell you who’s call­ing, a hospital?

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Good Luck and Godspeed

It’s a rar­ity when I sup­pose a par­ent out­lives the chil­dren, but I feel at least par­tially respon­si­ble for them, if only for the Kiel con­nec­tion via Brad Vogel…who’s now a long way away from our native Kiel.

(So am I, come to think of it.)

But all things must go — and, as our side­bar bears wit­ness, many good things have already gone. One June 1st, we too will go — again, and I think this time for good.

It’s been a fan­tas­tic ride, and I’d like to thank all of those who have con­tributed over the years: offi­cial blog mem­bers, guest posters, com­menters, and those who have tossed links our way from time to time. You’ve all helped make Let­ters in Bot­tles the place it became. It wouldn’t have been the same with­out all of you.

So stick around — we aim to go out in fight­ing trim, and should have some good bits for you in the next month. And then, my friends, adieu, and many happy returns.

Best of luck to the Let­ters in Bot­tles gang in what­ever you do.

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Last Typewriter Plant on the Planet Closes

Clearly, no gov­ern­ment in the world was will­ing to sub­si­dize their con­tin­ued existence.

It’s called “Tech­no­log­i­cal Progress” folks.

Godrej and Boyce — the last com­pany left in the world that was still man­u­fac­tur­ing type­writ­ers — has shut down its pro­duc­tion plant in Mum­bai, India with just a few hun­dred machines left in stock.

Although type­writ­ers became obso­lete years ago in the west, they were still com­mon in India  — until recently.  Demand for the machines has sunk in the last ten years as con­sumers switch to computers.

The company’s gen­eral man­ager, Milind Dukle, told India’s Busi­ness Stan­dard news­pa­per: ‘We are not get­ting many orders now.

From the early 2000s onwards, com­put­ers started dom­i­nat­ing. All the man­u­fac­tur­ers of office type­writ­ers stopped pro­duc­tion, except us.

Till 2009, we used to pro­duce 10,000 to 12,000 machines a year. But this might be the last chance for type­writer lovers. Now, our pri­mary mar­ket is among the defence agen­cies, courts and gov­ern­ment offices.’

The com­pany is now down to its last  200 machines — the major­ity of which are Ara­bic lan­guage models.

I don’t think ever in my aca­d­e­mic career did I have to use a type­writer.  The only ones I ever did use belonged to my par­ents for when my dad oper­ated an insur­ance agency out of the house.

Even my “Typ­ing” classes were done on com­put­ers like the Apple IIGS.  (Ah, memories…)

Next on the list for extension…Whiteout!

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