Retrotechtacular: Where the Linux/UNIX TTY Came From

retrotechtacular-tty-demystified

From time to time we realize that sayings which make sense to us probably will have no meaning for future generations. Two of the examples that spring to mind are “hang up the phone” or in a vehicle you might “roll down the window”. And so is the case for today’s Retrotechtacular. Linux users surely know about TTY, but if you look up the term you actually get references to “Teletypewriter”. What’s that all about?

[Linus Akesson] wrote a fantastic essay on the subject called The TTY Demystified. We often feature old video as the subject of this column, but we think you’ll agree that [Linus'] article is worth its weight in film (if that can be possible). The TTY system in Linux is a throwback to when computers first because interactive in real-time. They were connected to the typewriter-mutant of the day known as a teletype machine and basically shot off your keystrokes over a wire to the computer the terminal was controlling.

This copper pipeline to the processor is still basically how the terminal emulators function today. They just don’t require any more hardware than a monitor and keyboard. We consider ourselves fairly advanced Linux users, but the noob and expert alike will find nuggets and tidbits which are sure to switch on the lightbulb in your mind.

[Thanks Chuck]

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.

VT100 Gets BeagleBoned

vt100

How do you make a great terminal even better?  The answer is simple: add a BeagleBone Black to it! [Brendan] got his hands on one of the staples of classic computing, the DEC VT100 terminal.  The VT100 was produced from 1978 to 1983. The terminal was so widely used that it became the standard for other terminals to emulate. Open any terminal program today and chances are you’ll find a setting for VT100 emulation.

[Brendan] originally hooked his terminal up to a laptop running Linux. The terminal, cables, and the laptop itself became quite a bit to manage on a small desk. To combat this he decided to add a BeagleBone Black inside the terminal case. It turns out the VT100 actually lends itself to this with its Standard Terminal Port (STP) connector. The STP was designed to add a “paddle board” in-line with the serial stream of the terminal. DEC and third party manufacturers used this port to add everything from disk drives to entire CPM computers to the VT100.

[Brendan] began by designing a board to interface between the VT100 and the BeagleBone. The board level shifts serial lines from the BeagleBone to the VT100. The STP also allows the terminal to provide power to the BeagleBone Black.  He did notice some power glitches as the supply of the VT100 came up. This was solved with a standard TI TL77xx voltage supervisor chip. The hardest part of the entire design was the card edge connector for the STP. [Brendan] nailed the dimensions on the first try.  In the end [Brendan] was rewarded with a very clean installation that didn’t require any modification to a classic piece of hardware.

We should note that most PCB houses use Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) as their standard coating. This will work for a card edge connector that will be plugged in and removed a few times.  Cards that will be inserted and removed often (such as classic console cartridges) will quickly scrape the ENIG coating off. Electroplated Gold over Nickel is the classically accepted material for card edge connectors, however the process most likely is not going to come cheap in hobbyist quantities.

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