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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.

[Read more...]

Optical data transfer project at local school’s family science night

optical-data-at-family-science-night

[Dave] wanted to show off a project at his 4th-grade son’s school during their family science night. We haven’t heard of an event like this before but it sounds like a fabulous idea! He had a new laser he wanted to include in the project, and noticed that his son was learning about how ASCII maps letters to binary number when the idea struck. He ended up building an optical data transfer system that demonstrates binary code.

This presents a fantastic learning opportunity as the project invited the school kids to select encoded strips like the ones seen above to form a secret message. The laser is pointed at a photosensor which is being read by a Raspberry Pi board. The Python code looks for a baseline and then records increases and decreases in intensity. Since the translucent tokens have either holes or black lines for 0 and 1 the baseline approach does away with the need to clock in the data. [Dave] reports that everyone who tried out the experiment was fully engaged at the prospect of pushing pieces of tape through the sensor and watching their secret message appear on a monitor.

He was motivated to write about this project after reading about data transfer using an LCD screen and photosensor.

Detecting ASCII art across the Internet

As a web developer and designer, [Victor] has a habit of putting a very nice ASCII signature in an HTML comment at the top of every web page he designs. He was inspired by seeing others do this,  and this piqued his curiosity to see who else was doing this. His idea was to scan through a chunk of the Internet and see what other web pages had ASCII signatures in an HTML comment. With a lot of very clever work, [Victor] managed to grab some interesting ASCII art that would have been missed without looking at the source of millions of web pages.

After gathering a list of the top million top-level domains from Alexa, [Victor] wrote a script to download the HTML for all the pages in parallel. After that, it was just an issue of detecting the ASCII art in all the HTML files. There were a few earlier ASCII art detection algorithms, but nothing that suited [Victor]‘s use case. The best result came from only looking at the first comment (otherwise the signatory wouldn’t want you to find it with a quick glance at the source) that were at least 3 lines long and 40 characters wide. After discarding everything with HTML tags in it, [Victor] had an awesome gallery of the ASCII art from webpages all around the Internet.

What did he find? Well, there’s far too many ASCII signatures for [Victor] to put up on his webpage, but he did provide a nice sample of what he found. They’re mostly logos, although there is a Hypnotoad and Aperture Science sentry turret in there.

If you’d like to try out [Victor]‘s script, he made everything available on GitHub.

Apple ][ converted into USB keyboard

Sometimes it’s apparent that there is no practical use for something featured on Hack a Day, but we don’t know if [Andrew Filer]‘s Apple ][ USB keyboard qualifies for this.

After reading through the very thorough documentation available in electronic and dead tree formats, [Andrew] decided that Apple ][ would make a great USB keyboard. Unlike modern keyboards, vintage computers like the TRS-80, Commodore 64, and the Apple ][ return the 7-bit ASCII value of the key instead of a scan code. The ASCII codes generated by the keyboard were sent through a Teensyduino running [Andrew]‘s keyduino sketch.

Modern PS/2 keyboards use MAKE and BREAK scan codes sent from a microcontroller that reads the keyboard matrix. For example the MAKE code for the letter ‘A’ is 1C, while the BREAK code is F0 1C. There is a reason for this design, but for the DIYer, interfacing a keyboard becomes a challenge without a separate microcontroller. We’re thinking [Andrew]‘s keyduino could be a great way to put a keyboard in a project, but we’re not about to tear up our Apples and C64s to get a keyboard.

Texting with some walkie-talkies

[Travers Buda] is giving new life to his abandoned childhood toys. He cracked open a set of Family Radio Services radios he had received for a birthday which work up to 2 kilometers apart. With just a bit of extra circuitry he was able to get them to act as wireless modems. The system functions but it looks like it would benefit from some more refinement, including error correction. In the end [Travers] manages to send and receive ASCII based messages at a whopping baud rate of 10.

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!

Tradewars 2002 lives

tradewars2002

Are you growing tired of playing all those high-framerate first person shooters? Perhaps you long for the days of blocky graphics and text-based play. You’re in luck because Tradewars 2002 is still around. Many of you will remember this 1980’s BBS based game, playing a limited number of turns per day in an effort to rule the galaxy.

The game may be around, but the way you play it has changed drastically. The advent of custom scripts that interface directly with the game system makes this more of a who can write a better script rather than who is better at the game. A hacker’s challenge if you will.  [Read more...]

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