Retrotechtacular: The history of ANSI and ASCII art

retrotechtacular-bsides-ansi-ascii-art-talkThese slides may not be the style of character art you remember from the days of 2400 baud modems; they’re more advanced than what was out there in the beginning. It turns out there is still some life left in this art subculture. For this week’s installment of Retrotechtacular we look in on [Doug Moore’s] talk on the history and survival of ANSI and ASCII art given at this year’s BSides conference.

ASCII is still a common character encoding so chances are you’re already familiar with it. ANSI on the other hand is a rather confusing term as it’s been lost in obscurity when referring to character sets. In this case it refers to a set of extended characters which is better described as Windows Code Pages.

Most of what we know about the ANSI art scene is from watching BBS: The Documentary (which is on our ten best hacking videos list). We certainly remember seeing the vertically scrolling art after connecting to a dial-up BBS back in the day. But understanding the factions that formed around the creation, bundling, and distribution of this is art is fascinating. [Doug] does a great job of covering this history, sharing side-by-side examples of the shunned practice of “ripping” another artists work. This image is actually not a rip. Later in his talk he discusses the continued existence of the subculture, showing what a modern take on the same subject looks like.

If you’re merely into the technical the first half of the video below is worth watching. But we bet it’ll be hard not to continue to the end for a side-trip into art history.

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

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Toilet and Figlet

toilet_and_figlet

We thought [Kristofer’s] Tech Tip about using figlet with scripts was kind of fun. It’s a throwback to the days of logging onto a BBS and being greeted by a vertically scrolling ASCII art image that had been meticulously hand crafted (although a lot of the coolest stuff was actually ANSI art). No hand crafting here, just feed (or pipe) your text to figlet and it outputs the message in ASCII style letters.

When we went to try install this in Ubuntu, the toilet package was suggested. This one’s worth checking out too. It works in much the same way as figlet but uses extended characters and has a lot more color and font settings:

hackaday_toilet

Give these packages a try and make character art cool again!