The Santa Fe Institute is a fascinating place, built on an unusual vision of how academic research should be conducted. It has a small core of resident faculty, and a large group of rotating short-term visitors. Interaction continually crosses disciplinary boundaries, with a healthy mix of natural and social scientists (and some non-academics) at each seminar. Offices are shared and doors usually left open. Lunch at noon and tea at three are communal events: there are a few large tables around which everyone gathers. And there is a broad range in ages: undergraduate researchers mingle with post-docs, professors, and the occasional Nobel Laureate.
A few years ago I had the good fortune to share an office for a few weeks with Cormac McCarthy. I'm not sure which book he was working on at the time (I think it may have been The Road), but I noticed right away that there was no computer at his desk. This is what he was using:
That's right, a manual typewriter. One that he bought for $50 in 1963 and has now put up for auction:
Lately this dependable machine has been showing irrevocable signs of age. So after his friend and colleague John Miller offered to buy him another, Mr. McCarthy agreed to auction off his Olivetti Lettera 32 and donate the proceeds to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit interdisciplinary scientific research organization with which both men are affiliated.
“He found another one just like this,” a portable Olivetti that looks practically brand new, Mr. McCarthy said from his home in New Mexico. “I think he paid $11, and the shipping was about $19.95.”
In an accompanying letter of authentication, Cormac writes:
"I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of 50 years."
I hope that the auction brings in a substantial sum, and that the collector with the winning bid draws some satisfaction from the fact that the proceeds will be funding basic research at the Institute.