Want to renew your faith in humanity? Grab a slice of inspiration this weekend at the second Maker Faire New York, taking place September 17 and 18 at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. The amazing array of makers who will be present, each making a difference in their tiny corner of the world, is guaranteed to induce joy. Next up in our interview series is Jack Zylkin, who is on a mission to save old typewriters from obsolescence by giving them a hand into the 21st century. He is the inventor of the USB Typewriter.
1. Tell us about your USB Typewriter invention. What inspired you to make it and how long did developing it take?
I am a little upset by how disposable all of our modern gadgets have become — how the cycle of obsolescence has been driven to an absurd pace, with people junking their iPhone 3s to buy iPhone 4s, for example. Antique typewriters, meanwhile, are elegant, timeless machines, but no one uses them anymore because of the computerized world's need for immediate access and instant gratification. I think typewriters are just a more intimate, personal, thoughtful way to write, and what's more they're also amazingly beautiful works of classic engineering and design.
In terms of build quality and appearance, there is no comparison to modern plastic keyboards — it's like comparing a grand piano to a Casio synthesizer. So when I saw that most people who owned typewriters were either letting them collect dust, using them as mantle-piece decoration, or *shudder* cutting off the keys to make Etsy jewelry, I decided I needed to rescue these typewriters from irrelevance by reincorporating them into the routine of daily life — which meant taking them out of the attic and putting them on the computer desk.
2. What kind of reaction have you gotten since you launched your product?
The response from the maker community has been great. So many people wanted to buy USB Typewriter kits that I was able to quit my job and work as an inventor full time. There have also been lots of great suggestions from makers, including a suggestion for a portable model that saves to a memory stick (I'm still working on that one), and using a typewriter as a MIDI device.
3. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate?
A few years ago I would have killed just to go the Maker Faire, ever since I first read about it in MAKE magazine, but it was all the way in SF back then. I can't believe I'm actually IN it now. I am so excited.
4. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I'm an electrical engineer by training, but I originally wanted to be an artist or musician. As I went through engineering school I alternately turned my bedroom into a recording studio, and then a screen-printing studio — both with disastrous results. It wasn't until I found a home at Philly hackerspace Hive76 that I realized that engineering itself could be a mode of expression. The other hackers at Hive76 are also an inspiration, both as inventors and friends. However, my greatest inspiration is Doc Brown, who I hope to be just like when I grow up.
5. Is your USB Typewriter strictly a hobby or part of a budding business? Does it relate to your day job?
The USB Typewriter started as one of many inventions I was tinkering around with, but it took over, and now I've quit my job and work full time making USB Typewriters, selling kits, and investigating new inventions. I actually made up some business cards that say "Jack Zylkin: Inventor". I'm also about to unveil a brand new invention at the Maker Faire — it's a six-sided dice that changes color randomly when thrown. I don't have a name for it yet, but I'm thinking along the lines of LazerDice. There's a whole crazy boardgame that goes with the dice, too, involving Vikings, unicorns, and tarot cards, but it's still in development. Hopefully I can challenge some Maker Faire visitors to a few rounds!
6. What new idea has inspired you most recently?
Lately I've been marveling over the crisping sleeve — it might be the most incredible invention ever, or maybe a close second after penicillin.
7. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?
Always be working on something. Even if you don't have any good ideas at the moment, pick a bad idea and work on it. Even if a project has no chance of success, you will learn from it and it will hopefully take you somewhere new.
8. What's your motto? Favorite tool?
My favorite tool is the Craft Robo. It's a $200 CNC paper-cutting machine! It's so cool! I know a lot of my projects would have stalled if I didn't have the ability to cut precision pieces and templates right there on my desk. I don't understand why the Craft Robo isn't on every maker's desk already.
9. What do you love most about NYC?
Thanks Jack! For all the 411 you need to join in on the action this weekend, head on over to the Maker Faire website!