Old Fax Machine Shows Signs of Life

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[Dmitry] is a Moscow based artist. He’s also a an avid circuit bender and hardware hacker. His latest project is entitled “signes de vie” or signs of life. [Dmitry] started with an Arduino and an old thermal fax machine. He removed the thermal print head and replaced it with a row of 10 LEDs. These old fax machines would use rolls of paper, cutting each sheet of as it was printed. [Dmitry] kept the roll system, but treated his paper with fluorescent dye. As the paper passes under the LEDs, it pauses for a moment and the LEDs are flashed. This causes a ghostly glow to remain on the paper for several minutes as the next rows are printed.

While [Dmitry] could have made this the world’s biggest tweet printer, he chose to go a more mathematical route. Each printed row of dots represents a generation of one-dimensional cellular automata. Cellular automation is a mathematical model of generations of cells. All cells exist on a grid, and can be alive or dead. The number of neighboring live cells determines if any given cell will live on to the next generation. One common implementation of cellular automation is Conway’s Game of Life. In [Dmitry's] implementation, a bank of switches select which of the 256 common cellular automata rules controls the colony. A second bank selects how long each generation lasts – from 1 to 18 seconds.

We really like how the paper becomes a printed, yet temporary history of the colony. [Dmitry] doesn’t say if he’s using a single long strip of paper, or if he created a loop. We’re hoping for the latter. Finally a useful implementation of the old black fax loop prank.

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Nyan Fax brings the celebrity kitty to your office

Internet blocked at your office and feel like you’re just not getting your fix of Nyan Cat? Don’t worry, you can now use the fax machine to get your fix. [Tom Scott] put together the project to our delight, which will work best if you can find one of those fax machines that uses the continuous roll of paper. But as you can see above, individual sheets will work too. The best part is that Nyan Fax is live for callers from the UK and internationally!

The hack is using something called ‘fax polling’. It allows the sender to set up an on-demand server where any caller will be sent a queue of documents. In this case [Tom] crafted a Nyan Cat document that never ends… you’ll need to disconnect the phone line or pull the pug to stop the printing. See for yourself in the clip after the break. If you’re interested in setting up your own it can be done with the mgetty and sendfax packages on a Linux box.

Just in case you’re keeping score, [Tom Scott] is one of the guys behind the Webcycle.

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