Need To Reference The US Constitution Fast? How’s 6 Seconds Sound?


Well, unless you know exactly what you’re referencing it’s going to take you a lot longer, but this clever serial receipt printer hack will let you print the whole darn thing in just 6 seconds!

Commissioned by [Jeff Goldenson] for his (quite literally a pop-up library on a bike), it was actually shown off at SXSW Interactive — did anyone see it in person? The artist-hacker who created it is [Thibault Brevet], the guy who brought us the DRM chair that only works 8 times before it falls to pieces.

Anyway, this cool and rather suspicious looking tube with a serial cord hanging out contains an Arduino, a max232 chip and a small Li-Po battery. The Arduino communicates with the printer through the max232 chip by converting the TTL signal to RS-232. It has a single button on top, which when it is connected to the printer will send out the US Constitution over the serial interface via ESC/p language.

Did we mention how fast it is?

Receipt printers are a lot of fun once you figure out how to communicate with them. After that you’ll be wasting receipt paper like no tomorrow with this extremely wasteful (but awesome) printer based video game!

[Thanks Itay!]

34 thoughts on “Need To Reference The US Constitution Fast? How’s 6 Seconds Sound?

      1. Which means what, exactly?

        It would be awesome if the story included a meaningful unit, like inches per second or something. I’m more curious to know if this guy actually did something to the machine to make it print that fast, or if the printer is running at a normal speed (in which case I have no idea why “6 seconds” is impressive- it’s like saying you printed out 2000 pages on a $40K Xerox in 5 minutes, which is precisely what that machine was designed to do).

        1. I would assume it’s a thermal receipt printer, which are usually pretty quick to print out say , a UPS shipping label, I would guess the impressiveness is the arduino keeping up with the overhead demand of spooling out the file.

        2. The unit is “Constitutions per second” and this printer can do ~0.167 CPS. ;)

          The speed is probably due to a combination of the small font used and an ESC/p command for feed rate and/or image darkness (darker thermal marks take longer to make, obviously).

          1. …and the commands sequences are different for every printer, even within brands. Dealing with receipt printers is like going back to the old “write your own driver” DOS days.

          2. Back in those darker days, the printer manufacturer actually provided enough documentation for their ESC command set that someone could actually write a driver.

            I still remember writing an assembly language graphing function that does the rasterization on the fly with a single N columns x8 dots buffer for each pass to run in a 8-bit machine with less than 32kB. I am too lazy to do stuff like that these days.

          3. Having actually written drivers for a few, I can attest that the documentation leaves out many important details. Just because “documentation” exists does not mean it is complete or detailed enough to write a driver quickly or easily.

          4. Yeah trying to get them up and running can be a barrel of noFun.
            When working on the membership payment box
            I ended up using LadyAda’s library. After fiddling with the serial rates I eventually found the one my printer liked. Fought with it for a while to do graphics but no luck, and only SOME of the font codes worked.
            And it is slow as molasses. Not sure if that’s the library or the printer. At any rate, The Adafruit library is a good place to start for ANY printer, then tune it up for YOUR printer.

  1. well at least if you want it shredded in less than 6 seconds, look no further than Washington D.C., the capital of constitution shredding using an industrial shredder called “congress”.

  2. Even cheap receipt printers run at 200-300 mm per second (8 to 11 inches per second), so there’s no “hack” at the printer level, it’s all about the oh so artsy fartsy stuffing the US Constitution into a self contained serial device (you know, the same exact thing that any smart phone, tablet, notebook, laptop, or computer could do).

    1. er.. Any? What would you place there, in order of importance to you, or the world of large? A riposte, a critique? An ammendment, or an endorsement? Or maybe a repeat, as a reinforcement. hard to say, isn’t it? I think it is fine as it is,, Re-purpose as you need or wish, but i have to say.. That was quite poetic..

    1. Love it especially considering i have a few of those printers laying around. Now it makes me want to look into using them with an arduino as a logger with a pushbutton to get a printout of errors if any occur.

      1. At the last Tokyo MAKE fair, there was a guy who wrote a choose your own adventure game printed on the thermal printer, and a number keypad interface. Too bad for me it was in Japanese, so I got lost pretty fast and ‘died’ in 3 or 4 steps.
        I plan on recreating it in English, If I could just sit down and write a decent adventure story.

  3. Perfect response to the Demolition Man Verbal Morality Statute printer.

    It could be a commentary on how some police departments issue tickets. I haven’t been pulled over recently, but Google seems to think receipt-style ticket printers are common throughout law enforcement. Not just in the parking enforcement department either.

    It could also be commentary on how we document our lives in the modern day. With all our intellectual works migrating to “the cloud”, our remaining paper trail is the credit card receipts, invoices, and various other small transactional documents printed on these printers. When the EMP takes out our digital libraries, all that will be left is a trail of rental car agreements. That is until they fade into blank pieces of paper.

  4. I actually built something like this 6 or so years ago, when I worked for a company who did POS systems. I wanted something that could test the printer easily, so I built essentially the same thing, except using a microchip pic and max232, and was called “Magic 8 Ball Tester” – every time you hit the button, it would spit out a random Magic 8 Ball response.

  5. I love the pile of paper at his desk!!! I had a Epson TMS-L90 at my desk, and used it to log errors when British Telecom was being flakey. I came in after a weekend with a new roll of paper filling my cube with link flaps. and BGP neighbor changes.

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