Retrotechtacular: 1983’s answer to information overload

We can’t say we ever really thought that the problem with the early 1980’s was too much information in the hands of the people. But this promotional video for the Sceptre Videotex Terminal claims that it is the solution to the information overload of the time. The entire video is embedded after the break.

You use your TV as a display, connecting the hardware to a phone line and using a keyboard for navigation. Perhaps our favorite bit is when the announcer informs us that the secret behind the system is its “vast sources of information”. These include the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, and Consumer Reports. Just remember that at the time you’d need to hit the local library to access all of those resources. Also, searching them wasn’t a possibility.

But wait, this wasn’t just conceived for news. The system — which was backed by Night-Ridder (a huge Newspaper conglomerate) and AT&T — boasted commerce and banking abilities as well as education services. It’s the vision of the Internet which Ma Bell would have preferred to be in place today.

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Android phone serves as Arduino terminal

Looking to use his Arduino when on-the-go, [Oleg] has been working on a way to use the Android ADK terminal emulator with the Arduino. The Android side uses ADK features along with a custom application. [Oleg] received help from his friend [Victor] when developing the program for Android (you can check out our own Android Development tutorials if you’re interested in learning how this is done). The .apk file is available for download, but they’re waiting to release the source code until they can clean it up and get some of the gnarly bugs out of the beta version.

A USB host shield for the Arduino is needed to connect to an Android hand set. You’ll be able to send and receive strings via the terminal, with support for carriage return and life feed characters. Unfortunately this doesn’t allow you to change, compile, or write sketches to the Arduino. But it might come in very handy when trouble shooting a project when a computer is not around, or just for using an Android phone as an output.

Add a real life hardware terminal to that newfangled computer of yours


If you find a crusty old IT guy and give him half a chance, he’ll probably regale you with stories of how things were done “in the old days” where no one had their own computer and everyone worked on mainframe-connected dumb terminals. [JSTN] yearned for a true to life terminal display that he could attach to his 2010 Mac Pro, and since there’s no chance anybody is bringing one to market any time soon, he pieced one together on his own.

He dug up a digital VT220 terminal, and got to work trying to interface this office relic with his shiny new Mac. He found a few helpful tips from someone who did the same thing with an Apple ][c, though that solution relied on emulating a terminal – something he did not want to do.

He connected the VT220 to his computer using an off the shelf USB to serial adapter, but the software side of things still needed attention. A quick gettytab tweak later, he had his hardware terminal up and running without much trouble.

He says that he is more than happy to help anyone do the same, so let the mad eBay scramble for old terminals begin!

[via Adafruit blog]

I am root! – IP camera shell access

[Shawn] emailed us some pictures and a description of his latest hack. He cracked open a Rosewill RXS-3211 IP Camera because the output of the web interface made him certain that it was running Linux and he wanted to unlock some more potential from the device. These cameras are used for security, and offer a browser-based interface via a WiFi connection. After studying the circuit board he started poking around an unpopulated set of four pads and managed to get a serial connection up and running. The device’s serial terminal operates at 115200 baud using eight data bits, one stop bit, and even parity.

He wonder where to go from here and we have a few ideas. You can see in the terminal readout above that it announces when motion is detected. We think this motion detection would be quite useful with a small rover while adding live video broadcasting at the same time. An embedded Linux system should be able to interface with the device and we think that a bit of creative coding would open up the WiFi connection for other use as well. Not bad for a module that can be had for as little as $29. We’ve included all the images [Shawn] sent us after the break and we’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’d use this for in the comments.

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Kindle terminal with secret key-press activation

[Luigi Rizzo] has been working on some hacks for his 3rd generation Kindle. There is already a Python based terminal emulator called AjaxTerm but he wanted a lightweight standalone so he reimplemented the program in C. The 100k binary monitors the keyboard, launching the terminal emulator when it detects a Shift-T sequence. It also uses alternative key mapping to fill in for some of the keys the Kindle’s keyboard is missing.

We haven’t seen a whole lot of Kindle hacking since it was hacked to run Ubuntu. Seems like this terminal emulator is a useful and unobtrusive hack to try out on the beloved reader.

Communicating with an LED matrix

Most of the LED matrix posts we run delve into the hardware design. This time around [J Bremnant] used prefab modules and focused on writing code to address the display. The hardware combines two 24×16 LED boards from Sure Electronics with a Teensy 2.0 to drive the display and provide a USB connection. The firmware comes in just under 8k, leaving graphic manipulation up to a PC.

[J Bremnant’s] Python script offers a lot of flexibility when working with the display. There are three modes selectable through a terminal interface. One just tests the display and then drops into Conway’s Game of Life. The second mode lets you send commands via serial interface so it can be used as a message ticker. The final feature is frame addressing that allows graphics to be dropped into the display. See each of these featured in the video after the break.

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Playing hacker with a toy vault

[Thomas Cannon] created his own hacking game by adding some circuitry to this toy vault. The original toy uses the keypad to control a solenoid keeping the door shut. He kept the mechanical setup, but replaced the original circuit board with his own ATmega328 based internals. He also added a USB port to the front. The gist of the game is that you plug-in through USB to gain access to the vault’s terminal software. If you can make your way through the various levels of admin access the loot inside will be yours.