Dumb Terminals And Raspberry Pis

Back in the old days, the cool kids didn’t have an Apple II or a Trash-80. The cool kids had jobs, and those jobs had Vaxxen all over the place. The usual way of working with a Vax would have been a terminal, a VT220 at least, or in the case of [Sudos]’ experiments with a Raspberry Pi, A DEC VT510, a single session, text only serial terminal.

Usually, when we see a ‘new hardware stuffed into old tech’ project like this, the idea is simply to find a use for the old hardware. That makes sense; a dumb terminal from the late 90s should be a bit rarer than a Raspberry Pi Zero. This is not the case for [Sudos]’s build. He recently came across a few Raspberry Pi Zeros at Microcenter, and looking for a use for them, he decided to turn a serial terminal into a Real Unix System™.

As you would expect from a serial terminal, connecting a Raspberry Pi and putting some awesome character graphics on the screen is as simple as a Max3232 board picked up from eBay, a WiFi dongle, and an Ethernet adapter. Connect the Pi to the terminal with a serial adapter cable, and you’re off to the races.

While the VT510 serial terminal is just about the end of the line as far as dedicated terminals go, there are classier options. The VT100 terminal, older than most of the Hackaday readership, features a port on its gigantic board, meant to connect to whatever weirdness was coming out of Maynard in the late 70s. You can attach a BeagleBone to this connector, making for a very slick stealth mod.

Bringing A Teletype Into The 21st Century

Before modern CRTs with ancient VGA connectors, and before fancy video terminals, the display for computers large and slightly smaller was the Teletype. While many of these Teletypes were connected directly, they were designed to be a remote terminal, connected through Ma Bell’s network. [NeXT] over on the Vintage Computer Forums is bringing the iconic ASR33 Teletype into the 21st century by giving this old display a modern way to connect to the outside world.

If you ever see a Teletype in action, it will be connected to a local machine. This was certainly not always the case. The Teletype was designed to connect to remote systems. [NeXT]’s Teletype came with a Call Control Unit designed for Telex lines, which do not exist anymore. Modems for the ASR33 existed, but good luck finding one. Lucky for [NeXT], nearly every modem ever made is backwards-compatible with the Bell Dataphone, one of the standard ways of plugging a Teletype into a phone line. All [NeXT] had to do was put a modem inside this Teletype.

With relays, transistors, LEDs, and a lot of perfboard, [NeXT] successfully built a circuit that would interface the Teletype’s Call Control Unit to a Hayes Smartmodem tucked away inside the stand. Believe it or not, this is an exceptionally useful build; if you ever find a Teletype tucked away in the back of an old office, in a surplus shop, or on Craigslist, odds are it won’t be compatible with any modern electronics. That’s not to say land lines are particularly modern, but since there’s a microcontroller included in the new circuitry, it’s relatively easy to add a USB port to this ancient terminal.

Wolfenstein in 600 Lines of Code

What’s more impressive, the fact that this Wolfenstein-like game is 600 lines of code, or that it’s written in AWK?

AWK is a language primarily used for text processing. But if you can write code the world bows to your wishes. [Fedor Kalugin] leverages the ability of a Linux terminal’s color options to draw his game. The 3D aspect is produced through ray-casting which generates a 2D image from 3D coordinates.

Trying out the game is extremely simple, install gawk, clone the repo, and play:

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A Tool For Spying On Serial Data

[Piotr] was working on a recent Arduino project when he ran into a problem. He was having trouble getting his Arduino Pro Mini to communicate with an ESP8266 module. He needed a way to snoop on the back and forth serial communications. Since he didn’t have a specialized tool for this task, [Piotr] ended up building his own.

spying-on-serial-thumbThe setup is pretty simple. You start with a standard serial cable containing the TX, RX, DTR, and GND wires. This cable connects the Arduino to the ESP8266 WiFi module. The TX and RX lines are then tapped into. Each wire is routed to the RX pin of two different serial to USB adapters. This way, the data being sent from the Arduino shows up on one COM port and the data being transmitted from the module shows up on the other.

The next piece of the puzzle was coming up with a way to see the data more clearly. [Piotr] could have opened two serial terminals simultaneously, but this wasn’t ideal because it would be difficult to compare the timing of the data. Instead, [Piotr] spent less than an hour writing his own simple serial terminal. This one connects to two COM ports at the same time and prints the data on the same screen. The data from each COM port is displayed in a separate color to make it easy to differentiate. The schematic and source code to this project can be found on [Piotr’s] website.

Simple Terminal Hack is Fit For Hollywood

We’ve all seen the cheesy hacker scenes in movies and on TV. Three dimensional file system browsers, computer chip cityscapes, and other ridiculous visualizations to make the dull act of sitting at a keyboard look pretty on the silver screen. While real hackers know those things are often silly and impractical, sometimes we do go out of our way to pretty things up a bit.

Hollywood might be able to learn a thing or two from this latest hack. [Yuri] modified his Linux terminal to change the color of the back lights on his laptop’s keyboard. It’s the kind of thing that actually would look good in a modern hacker movie, and [Yuri] is living proof that it’s something that a real-life hacker would actually use!

[Yuri] has been running Simple Terminal. The Simple Terminal project aims to build a replacement for the default xterm program that removes all of the unnecessary features and simplifies the source code. It also aims to make your terminal experience prettier. Part of making things prettier means that you can choose the font color for your terminals, and of course each terminal window can have its own color if you so choose.

[Yuri] happens to own an Alienware laptop. This laptop comes with RGB LEDs behind the keyboard, allowing you to light them up just about any color you could ever want. [Yuri] thought it would be cool if his keyboard color matched the font color of his terminal windows. Thanks to AlienFX, he was able to write a simple patch for Simple Terminal that does exactly this. Now whenever he selects a terminal window, the keyboard automatically switches colors to match the text in that window. Be sure to check out the video below. Continue reading “Simple Terminal Hack is Fit For Hollywood”

Retrotechtacular: Where the Linux/UNIX TTY Came From


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.

USB adapter for an old VT100 keyboard


Ah, the VT100, the first dumb terminal that was controlled with a microprocessor. This ancient beast from the late 70s is quite unlike the terminals you’d find from even five years after its vintage – the keyboard connects via a TRS quarter-inch jack – the electronic and code design of this terminal is a bit weird. [Seth] was up to the challenge of making this mechanical keyboard work as a standard USB device, so he created his own USB adapter.

On the little quarter-inch to USB adapter, [Seth] included an HD 6402 UART to talk to the keyboard, along with a Teensy dev board and a few bits of circuits stolen from DEC engineers. The protocol between the keyboard and terminal is a little weird – first the terminal sets a bit in a status word, then the keyboard scans all the key rows and columns in sequence before telling the terminal it’s done. Yes, this gives the VT100 full n-key rollover, but it’s just weird compared to even an IBM Model M keyboard that’s just a few years younger.

[Seth] finally completed his circuit and wired it up on a perfboard. Everything works just as it should, although a little key remapping was done to keep this keyboard adapter useful for Mac and Windows computers. It’s a wonderful bit of kit, and any insight we can get into the old DEC engineers is a wonderful read in any event.

Vidias below.

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