Shift Happens: A book about keyboards

Created by Marcin Wichary

The history of keyboards – from early typewriters to modern mechanical marvels – told in two beautiful volumes.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

No love from North Dakota
23 days ago – Mon, Apr 01, 2024 at 06:02:29 PM


Not much has changed since last time. You should all have received your book by now! If you haven’t, or something is still on your mind, please contact me immediately at [email protected].

This might also be a fun moment to check out the little online companion to the book, with an easily-searchable index and a bunch of other cool things!

Otherwise, this is the final update. There are no news or action items further down, so if Kickstarter updates interest you purely for their functional aspects, you can stop reading now!

(But I hope you continue.)

All good things

A few people recently reminded me of this strange toy typewriter:

I ended up not including it, because there was no right place to put it. But if you’ve read the book, hopefully you understand the strangeness of this toy.

It’s not only that it’s a visual clone of one of the early, industrial-looking IBM Electric typewriters. It’s also a strange skeuomorph slash impostor: if you look carefully, this is actually a cheap index typewriter, and the non-functioning keyboard below is just so it pretends it’s something better than it is!

When you publish the book on your own, there are many opportunities to feel like an impostor. You get neither a release party, nor a book tour. You can’t appear on the New York Times bestseller list (although it‘s possible Shift Happens would’ve qualified otherwise!). And once in a while, someone will make an off-hand comment about this being a “lesser” way of doing things, based on outdated impressions of self-publishing cemented half a century ago.

But last weeks in particular reminded me how few of these things matter.

My most meaningful discovery of these past weeks was seeing the same kinds of things reported back to me that made me start loving books so much, all those years ago: staying up late to read the book because you can’t put it away, leaving work early to read, finishing a book and then immediately reading it again (and finishing it again, too!), having tears in eyes while reading. All of these – and more – were sent to me in your messages. One of you launched a Kickstarter (now finished and successful) buoyed in small part by the success of mine. You told me about your son who kept sneaking in the book on family trips just so he could read it more often. At least one of you called my book “one of my favorite books of all time.”

My book could’ve been published in the most “legitimate” and non-impostory of ways, without me ever witnessing any of these moments.

Ten nice things

As if the above wasn’t enough, here’s one last list of ten delightful things:


The book is now available in at least 9 libraries in America, and a few abroad! I know these numbers wouldn’t be impressive for most other books, but given the price and limited availability of Shift Happens, I am happy this is so much more than zero.

Plus, was particularly enthralled by this post explaining how the book made it to the beautiful National Library of Finland!


It’s a small world in other ways, too. One of the readers wrote saying: on page 1080, you included a photo of a keyboard meetup. “I have exactly one photo from that event; it’s of the exact same table of vintage keyboards from another angle! Is that you in the top left? Hard to tell from this angle.”

He included this pic:

It turns out it was indeed me, taking this very photo:

I ended up not using that photo in the book; I liked the referential nature of it – a keyboard key with a [Keyboard] legend on it – but just like with typewriter above, it was too deep of a cut.


One of the readers wrote “That was the best and most fun index I have read since the index of Douglas Adams’s The Deeper Meaning of Liff; it’s a rare index that’s worth reading cover to cover, but this is one!” Thank you to my indexer Jan for doing such a splendid job!


Coming from Europe, was delighted to see this delivery photo in Estonia (I have the same European bell on my bike, although mine is – perhaps to no one’s surprise – orange):

This is also just a fantastic photo from a reader in… you can figure out where:

But I was perhaps most touched – for obvious reasons, I hope – about seeing the book being safely delivered to Ukraine:


As I mentioned last time, as hard it is to imagine doing that to a book with this sticker price, I am really enjoying people (somewhat) hacking the book and being (somewhat) careless about it.

Here are sticky flags denoting – I hope? – interesting things:

Here’s a “hacked” table of contents, augmenting my cryptic chapter titles with human-readable descriptions from the website:

Here is the slipcase used as… furniture!

(Actually, more than one person did that.)


“I think I had a deeper appreciation of these things having read about them beforehand…” A fun post from someone visiting a museum, mirroring my own experiences a few years ago.


One of the readers sent me a photo of her family’s Remington №5, which is itself really cool – but note what’s typed in! It’s a quote from the book, talking about this very typewriter:

(And the keys are blanked out because the typewriter was salvaged from a school where it was used to teach typing.)


After all the trouble we’ve initially had with shipping, it was great to receive many emails of praise with the method we ended up using:

  • “I haven’t received such a well packed package since I ordered a laptop from IBM in the early 1990s!”
  • “As a former model maker who had to assure that models costing hundreds of thousands of dollars would arrive in good shape I am very impressed with the elegance of your solution.”
  • “Those books were packed better than our wine club orders!”

(One day I might post some of the near-horror stories – almost all including a lot of water – in my newsletter.)


I loved this Instagram post, because people disagreed with something I wrote in the book! (You might think disagreement is unpleasant, but I prefer that to indifference!)


“I will not unbox the book until the anniversary [of the typewriting club], which is in 2025. That’s the hardest part for me, because I’m super curious.” 🥺

Still learning

I am finally catching up with my inbox, the to-do list is now just the length of one screen, and the inventory emails I get every day are back to how it all started:

I’m trying hard not to think about someone calling my book “life’s work” (I mean, I am not going anywhere), or the second album syndrome. And I’m practicing finding joy in that I’m still learning things – even though I can no longer put them in the book!

So, on that note:

Here’s yet another unusual “index typewriter” I never heard of, that printed a bitmap font… in the late 1890s!!!

What a fascinating device! Check out more photos here.

Speaking of the 1890s… as I was working on updating the Gorton Perfected specimen to include my photos from Australia, I learned something new: the font was originally made in the U.K., still within the 19th century, with the explicit purpose of putting markings on camera lenses!

These were the early years of a company named Taylor Taylor & Hobson, which later licensed its equipment to other manufacturers, including George Gorton Machine Co. in America. What a wild origin story. You can learn more about this in a vastly updated specimen with 22 new pages of photos and information!

And, speaking of origin stories: Another reader sent a photo with a few semi-modern F Turkish keyboards. Writing about the Turkish typewriter was one of the early research moments for the book – but I didn’t realize even Apple has still been tinkering with this layout:

Lastly, my sincere thanks to everyone (a group too numerous to even attempt listing!) who sent in errata, corrections, or suggestions on how to make the book better! Please, please don’t stop.

What’s next?

If you want to read more about the making of the book, I might cover that in my newsletter, so please subscribe there if you haven’t already!

I am also still considering re-releasing the first booklet as print-on-demand, and introducing two new booklets (the Gorton specimen as above, and something new and secret). If this happens, I will update you all here.

But otherwise this is it. Thank you for coming from 62 (!) countries and all of the U.S. states (except, for some reason, North Dakota) to accompany me on this peculiar journey.

You were absolutely a wonderful and supportive group of people to do this with, helping turn this strange book impostor into something wonderful that I’ll forever be very proud of.

Thank you.

Oh, yeah, and you also sent 75 more photos:

author, Shift Happens

On cuspidors and, mercifully, other things
about 2 months ago – Sun, Feb 25, 2024 at 03:55:12 PM

This might be the most pointless chart I ever made, but: we are done with shipping! Last week and this week my fulfillment partners sent out all the remaining books, even to those who ordered them just a few weeks ago.

Unless you are one of the few people who requested a March shipment, you should either have the book in your possession, or at the very least an email with a tracking number. If that’s not the case, please check out your spam folder – if still nothing, please let me know at [email protected].

Once you get the book…

I love photographs of the book wherever it ends up, and I would love to print a big poster of all of these photos, just for me, as a celebration. If it’s easy for you to take and send a photo, I always appreciate it! ([email protected])

Also, for those who already received the book: don’t forget about a little digital companion I made, which has a searchable index and a bunch of other things.

Ten nice things

Continuing with the tradition, a ten nice/fun things that happened recently:


Over on Threads, we are discussing what 鈍 or 鈍器 or even 鈍器本 means when it comes to the book! “A blunt weapon”? “Doorstop”? “Big mama”? They *seem* like they are terms of endearment. If you speak Japanese – or particularly if you wrote those tweets – please weigh in!


One of the readers customized the books with their own satin bookmarks! I originally decided against adding them to the books because – just like book jackets – I find them a little fiddly and messy. But I love this addition and the fact that it’s in orange! Your book is yours to keep and I enjoy the idea of them being customized, thrown around, worn out, written on top of, etc. (Although I know some of those things are harder to imagine given the book’s price.)


BTW, it’s really, really fun to be able to say “one of the readers”!


This is just really funny to me, too! (Click through for the whole story.)


But yes, there are still keyboards I’m learning about! This, for example, is a Psion 3A organizer rebadged as Acorn Pocket Book II. Every nerd in the UK will recognize both of these manufacturers – I just never knew they were once actually connected.


Also, I don’t know, it’s kind of fun to see that keyboard above actually used to type “Shift Happens.” Here’s another one, copyright 2021/1991/1977!


Scroll up and down on this Mastodon thread of a bunch of us trying to figure out a strange keyboard of a kind we’ve never seen before – sort of a prototypical Stream Deck, if that means anything to you! It’s called The Simplifier, and it’s probably… simpler than the advertising makes you believe:


Nice to see at least one blog moving over to use Gorton Perfected!


This person went too deep on two words from one of the quotes in the book that maybe didn’t deserve going deep. Read on, if you dare!


I loved this little story of someone thinking there was a print mistake, and later realizing it was actually an easter egg – this was intentionally (and cheekily) arranged this way by me, and this outcome is exactly what I wanted. I’m sorry!

Glenn’s Kickstarter

Glenn Fleishman helped so much with the project – you might have even spoken with him directly when dealing with various shipping quandaries – and he has an upcoming Kickstarter of his own!

How Comics Were Made is about the history of newspaper comic strips. It‘s a full-color 288-page coffee table book; if you liked the chapter about the Linotype in Shift Happens, or my reporting from the printing press, or if you love comics… or generally well- and lovingly-made books, please check it out!

The Kickstarter is launching very soon, but you can sign up to be notified even today to be the first in line.

More photos 

Last time we looked at the book next to various keyboards, so this time let’s check out all the friends the book is making that are of the non-keyboard persuasion! 

And perhaps also recommendations for other books to consider:

Thank you!

I will send another update in a few weeks as a wrap up. Until then!


Busy being born
2 months ago – Fri, Feb 09, 2024 at 10:11:19 PM

What’s the shipping status?

We have delivered a lot of books to the U.S. in the recent week, and the penultimate large international shipment is going out soon.

At this point, if you ordered the book on Kickstarter (thank you!), or preordered it afterwards but before October 4, you should have either received your book, or an email telling you the book ships soon. If this is not the case for you, please email me at [email protected]!

We ship in large batches to make things cost-effective. After this, we will move to the last large batch: shipping the book to everyone who ordered it in October or later, including people who snagged the last remaining copies this past week! (👋)

Ten more nice things

I wanted to continue the theme from the last update – ten really sweet/cool things that happened around the book in the last two weeks.

Please note that there are very minor spoilers for the book in this section. If this bothers you, scroll down to the photos below!


There was not one, but two unpacking videos of the book! 


It is really, really fun to see people unpacking the book, sending photos of Shift Happens next to their keyboard collections (more on that below) – but you know what’s also fun? Just seeing people casually sharing something they read in the book that interested them. 

Here a few examples that flew by me – and of course they will be more I will never be aware of:


One person from Catalonia emailed me saying how delighted they were that the first words of the book were “No tocar, si us plau!” Apparently they didn’t yet discover the typewriter museum in Figueres that’s in the opening chapter, and they are now planning to visit soon.


One of the readers sent me a prototype of a programmer’s keyboard that is unlike any programmer keyboard I’ve ever seen:

It dates from 1974 and was meant to be used with very early personal microcomputers like the Altair 8800: “The labels include Intel 8080 instruction mnemonics, hex values, ASCII characters, etc. There are 16 LEDs on the left and 16 across the top for readout.” 

I wish I could’ve included it in the book – this is the feeling I will now be facing over and over again – and strangely what it reminds me of is another prototype keyboard, on page 970!


Speaking of prototype keyboards – here’s one that is at least 50 years younger. It’s being built by one of the readers and uses Gorton Perfected for its legends!

Click through to follow the process!


The great Museum of Printing in Massachusetts – I mentioned them in an earlier update – put up a little display with the book!


One of the readers sent an email with the subject saying “Shift Happens question (nothing wrong),” and that parenthetical made me smile – they thoughtfully and correctly anticipated that I am getting a million emails with all sorts of issues. 

I am really impressed and inspired with the patience and enthusiasm and support all of you are showing during this process. My project manager once wrote “I love your customers!” and even today someone wrote me, learning that the book is sold out, “I’m sad for myself but happy for you.” Thank you.

(All of you, that is, except for one person who was a super dick. This is for you: 🖕 You know who you are.)


I sort of casually mentioned “A few people read the entire book already!” last time, but I think I didn’t fully appreciate what it meant until later.

You know how they say you die twice: once at the moment of your death, and second time the last person remembers you for the last time ever?

I feel like writing a book is sort of similar in reverse. When is a book truly born? When you have an idea to write it? When you finish the first draft? When you send the final manuscript to the printer? When it starts shipping? When the last copy gets delivered? All of these moments are worthy of celebration, and here’s another one: It really feels kind of wonderful for an aspiring book author to know that some people read your book in its entirety. 

I keep thinking of this stat I heard someone say: most of the games on Steam are never played by even a single person. It might be that a book truly becomes alive only when there’s at least one person who read it.


Another moment of (bittersweet) celebration: The book is now officially sold out! When I was putting the order at the printer, we chose the absolutely largest number we could during one print run (the printing press has some physical limitations), and that number is now all accounted for.

“Sold out” does not mean I have no copies left for myself, or to replace copies that were lost in transit or damaged. If you are reading this with an order in place and without the book in your hand yet, fear not. We have reserved some copies for these purposes!


And here’s another first. Someone sent this photo and wrote “this is a record of the first volume’s solemn acceptance into our family library with the Ex Libris press we use for that purpose.” This is the book’s first ex libris I know of – right next to a very cool keyboard.

And, speaking of which…

Here’s another gallery of the book next to various keyboards: treasured, forgotten, modern, old, expensive, cheap, funny, poignant.

Thank you to everyone for sending these in – they make me so happy. Please share more!

Until next time!


Ten tons of books [now with fixed images]
3 months ago – Sun, Jan 28, 2024 at 04:19:48 PM

My apologies for the previous update arriving with mangled pictures. It’s a bug in Kickstarter, but I think I found a way to avoid it.

What’s the shipping status?

We hit a stride and shipped a literal ten tons of books this past week!!! (Roughly half of them went to the U.S., and the rest to destinations abroad.)

We are presently at around 60% books shipped! If our shipping process were a mechanical keyboard, it would have a number row by now.

If you were in any of the groups shipped this past week, you should already know about it, via emails with tracking numbers we sent you. 

We are planning for the next U.S. shipment to go out this coming week, and another international shipment in about two weeks.

Soon, we will also confirm the credit cards and addresses of people who ordered the book after October 4, which was the original cut-off date for the first batch.

Odds and ends

Please be proactive! If you know you will be moving soon, or if you have a deadline/birthday gift/anniversary/whatever – please don’t wait for the automated emails, and let me know at [email protected] as soon as possible. The earlier we know, the more options there will be to try to figure out and accommodate your situation!

Thank you for your patience. I’m discovering that even outside of the busy Christmas season, shipping still takes a bit longer and costs a bit more, and that the American post office just doesn’t treat tracking numbers with the expected rigor (FedEx seems to be doing better). The good news is that the cost increases won’t matter to you since I’m honoring the prices you already paid, the regular delays are only measured in days, and the tracking issues resolve themselves over time. But overall, it adds to a slightly less pleasant experience than I anticipated, and I appreciate your ongoing patience and understanding.

How secure or reliable is your delivery location? If you know your delivery address is tricky and has a history of misplaced or even stolen packages – please think about changing it, or let me know at [email protected]. I don’t have the resources and finances of a big company and I might not automatically be able to send you another package for free. My team and I have a lot of experience shipping, and we can help find a way to send off your package in a way that you can receive it safely. (We are at 99.9% positive experiences so far!)

Last copies will be available for purchases soon. Now that I know a more precise count of books remaining in stock after deliveries, I will be able to open up the sale of more copies of the book. If you or someone you know are interested, please sign up to be notified. This is going to be one of the last opportunities to order Shift Happens (in this edition or maybe even ever!) – and not to hype it up, but the number of people on the sign-up sheet is already more than the remaining books available.

Are you interested in the nitty gritty of our Kickstarter campaign? Glenn Fleishman, who edited the book and managed a lot of the campaign and shipping aspects, wrote an in-depth Medium post about the choices we made and what we learned. If you know of anyone who wants to run a crowdfunding campaign, it’s a must-read (and after reading, you might realize Glenn is a must-hire!).

My favorite things of the past weeks

And now, for something different: I wanted to share with you what I spotted and was delighted by in the last few weeks.


The inimitable Prelinger Library in San Francisco – you should definitely check it out if you’re in the area – got the book in their collection, and they even created a custom box for it!


There is at least one Shift Happenshousehold where the book was ordered for two people as a pair: the first volume claimed by someone who loved the typewriters, and the second volume for someone who’s into mechanical keyboards. (What happened to the third volume and the slipcase was not revealed to me.)


I got two independent reports that kids really love playing with our gray corner packing method, so if your book was packed this way – this is something to consider! Did we plan for that when we were researching various packing methods? No, of course not. But it’s a cute surprise. (Photo shared with parents’ permission.)


I loved a report that two friends who live in different countries both preordered the book, but one got delivered earlier than the other. Rather than dig in, the recipient of the earlier book chose to wait for their friend in order to read the book together, creating a sweet mini Shift Happens book club, shared between Tokyo and New York!


Loved someone casually calling something (retroactively) a Shift Happens-style book.


A few people read the entire book already! (I’m always grateful for any emails with reactions – be it photos, reviews, notes, suggestions, etc. – no matter how far along you are.)


One person liked the book and after remembering an early issue of my newsletter, offered to actually send me the Z88 computer I wrote about there!  

I’m really grateful for the generosity – the machine is in a great shape, it’s fun to use, and it will always remind me of talking to Rick Dickinson.

This is the computer before the journey…

…and this is it right next to me. It actually came with a Z88-to-Mac software with a fun little icon. I might take it for a spin as soon as I find an old Mac somewhere.

Thank you!


Loved spotting people just casually mentioning something – or someone – they discovered in the book. (The first post is particularly sweet if you perused the book’s commentary, and particularly the bit about the arrow key visuals.)


After sharing my photos of an Australian submarine in the last update, and spefically the “Gorton madlibs,” I received an unexpected message from someone who served for a decade as a naval officer. He said:

The first rule of maritime law states that masters shall avoid collision with other vessels. On warships, this translates that the captain must be informed of any vessel getting closer than one nautical mile. Presumably, the Aussies use the plexiglass board for that. Grease pencil on plastic is a common method at sea because it is reasonably (salt water) splashproof.

I then asked: What is the reason for writing it out like this, rather than giving that information to the captain verbally (orally)?

Resilience mostly. The watch officer needs to maintain situational awareness of the ship inside a circle of surface visual range (around seven nm radius) and the captain may well be sleeping. Usually their cabin is a deck below. Rather than talking down a tube or phone it is less distracting to dictate the event onto the board and send one of the bridge crew down. It will also be available to enter into the ship's log after the watch. Gene Roddenberry got that one wrong in Star Trek - there is no “Captain’s log.” 

Perhaps not much to do with keyboards, but now you know, too!


I love all the photos I’m being sent of people actually reading or enjoying the book – these feel too personal to share more widely, but are always very appreciated. 

I also love photos of the book next to various keyboards. You’ve seen some last time, and next time I’ll show more. 

But this time around, and tying it back to the San Francisco library mentioned above, here is a selection of photos sent to me where my book is surrounded by other books. 

I grew up in an apartment filled with books, and a librarian for a mother, so seeing Shift Happens next this way feels very sweet and rewarding. Maybe you’ll recognize a volume or two – I definitely did.

(If you scrolled here and haven’t noticed – there’s also a cat in there somewhere.)

Until next time!

A keyboard is a board of keys
3 months ago – Fri, Jan 12, 2024 at 10:34:01 PM

What’s the shipping status?

The shipping is proceeding as outlined in the last update and I still anticipate you to receive your books throughout January into February. (We are experiencing a few days of delay owing to bad storm weather. But we are hopeful this is not going to amount to much.)

The next batch of almost 900 books is currently on a truck to the fulfillment center, and will be shipping to people outside the U.S. within about a week. In ca. two weeks, our biggest batch so far will go out to more of you in America. I prepared a little visualization:

You will be getting an email to confirm or modify your address some time before shipping, and then another email with a tracking number when your book starts to move. (I encourage you to check your spam folder.)

As always, please reach out if you have any specific circumstances I should be aware of. A few people mentioned gifts or birthdays, and so far we’ve been able to accommodate them all. We might not have all the flexibility of big retailers, but we care!

More pretty great photos

I’m grateful for people sharing delivery photos, and here are a few fun ones with the book making new friends:

Odds and ends

Unpacking guide. A few people asked about breaking in the book’s spine, so I updated the unpacking guide to include a little section at the bottom. Let me know if this is useful.

The online book companion. If you haven’t noticed, there is a little book companion site available that contains the unpacking guide, a digital version of the index (in case you want to find something using Ctrl+F), and a bunch of other fun stuff!

Newsletter. Over on the newsletter side, I wrote about various prototypes of the book that I made over the years.

The packaging is holding up. It seems so far that our packaging efforts have paid off. Our damage ratio has been much, much lower than industry standards – and I’m feeling great about it. As a matter of fact, we’ve already heard/seen horror stories of the box being punctured or being left for hours in heavy rain… and surviving intact.

USPS is not good at tracking. One of the promises of tracking numbers provided by shipping companies is that you should be aware of where your package is at any given moment. It’s almost like a proto AirTag and is a great technology when it works… but we discovered in sending hundreds of books so far that the USPS (American post office) often skips scanning when the packages are first dropped off, leaving the book in a “pre-shipment” status even after it’s been in their custody and moving around. Sometimes, the tracking data jumps from “pre-shipment” to “delivered” without any interim updates! This is obviously not ideal. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about that – but I’m grateful for your patience when refreshing the tracking page.

Possible bad weather news. As I mentioned up front, Maine is experiencing awful weather this week, which already shut down transportation and might do it again. I am eager for more packaging supplies to be delivered, and for the rest of the books to go out, so let‘s hope for the best and send warm thoughts in the direction of America’s east coast.

U.K. VAT is good so far. I know I mentioned some time ago that we were worried about the precariousness of the U.K. VAT situation. I eventually hired a company to help us with that, and I’m happy to report we’ve had a few dozen successful U.K. deliveries so far without any customs issues! I am hoping the rest will go out equally smoothly.

We figured out some PO Box issues. Thank you to one reader in particular who helped us figure out potential international PO Box issues. We have reached out to all of you already who might have been affected and we will avoid that particular delivery gotcha.

We improved our emails. Thank you to those of you who sent us improvement ideas for the tracking number emails we have been sending. By the nature of things (and lack of affordable time machines), you will not see another version of the email yourself, but your feedback helped make them even better for the rest of the people we’re sending stuff to!

Greetings from down down under

I’m presently on vacation in Australia.

You all know about my obsession with Gorton the font. A few years ago, I spotted two Gorton plaques on one of the navy ships moored in San Francisco and registered that in my brain. This week in Sydney, I decided to go visit the Maritime Museum just to see if some of the Australian navy ships and submarines on display there used Gorton, too.

And did they.

I have found hundreds of different plaques, some of them quite beautiful:

Here’s Gorton and Morse code:

Here are… madlibs? In the Navy? Set in Gorton? (Can someone explain?)

Here’s what you do if you carve out things in metal and then realize you have to backspace:

There were a few keyboards, too. 

This one was in some sort of targeting system and included a very military-looking target key:

Here is one that used a very distinctive set of modular keys made by Micro Switch/Honeywell back in the 1960s – some would say perhaps the first truly mechanical keyboard by our modern definition (which, by the way, is why those switches are there on the cover of volume 2):

Here are some old-fashioned terminals (unfortunately, I had no access to look closer, but I will go there again to see if I can take better photos):

But the funniest was this one, on one of the submarines. My eyes caught “MASTER KEYBOARD” set in Gorton, and I was very excited for a hot second…

…unless I realized what it was.

It was a board. 

Of keys.

This is so funny to me. In the last few months I’ve learned a lot about fulfillment, packing, international shipping, customer service, mass mailing, state sales taxes, and many other things. But I’m still learning about keyboards, too.