E-ink Typewriter Is Refreshingly Slow

It’s pretty hard to use the internet to complete a task without being frequently distracted. For better or worse, there are rabbit holes at every turn and whilst exploring them can be a delight, sometimes you just need to focus on a task at hand. The solution could be in the form of distraction-blocking software, razor-sharp willpower, or a beautifully crafted modern “typewriter”. The constraint and restriction of a traditional typewriter appealed to [NinjaTrappeur], but the inability to correct typos and share content online was a dealbreaker. A hybrid was the answer, with a mechanical keyboard commanding an E-ink display driven by a Raspberry Pi.

The main point of interest in this build is the E-ink screen. Though it’s easy to acquire theses displays in small sizes, obtaining a screen greater than four inches proved to be a challenge. Once acquired, driving the screen over SPI was easy, but the refresh rate was horrific. The display takes three seconds to redraw, and whilst [NinjaTrappeur] was hoping to implement a faster “partial refresh”, he was unable to read the appropriate values from the onboard flash to enable manual control of the drawing stages. Needless to say, [NinjaTrappeur] asks if people have had success driving these displays at a more usable rate, and would love to hear from you if so.

Some auxiliary hacks come in the form of terminal emulator adaptation, porting the E-ink screen library from C++ to C, and capturing the keyboard input. A handmade wooden case finishes it off.

If it’s old-school typewriters that float your boat, we’ve got you covered: this solenoid-actuated typewriter printer eventually became a musical instrument, and this daisy wheel machine produces ASCII art from a live camera.

[Via Boing Boing]

31 thoughts on “E-ink Typewriter Is Refreshingly Slow

    1. Ohhhhh dear! “Freewrite”. It even shows the illustrated user as a bearded hipster sat in a park. An empty park, with his 400 quid “Freewrite”.

      But what’s worst is the fucker has old-fashioned 1940s-style selector knobs, one for the Wifi, one for “folders”. Except they’re ersatz modern ones, and don’t look anything like as impressive as the real old knobs did. But for the idiots (“be a real writer!”) this is aimed at, they won’t know the difference. Other than the knobs the design is generally awful, like one of those add-on keyboards they made for the ZX Spectrum in the 1980s, with Styling By Project-Box.

      What set my alarm straight off though was “cloud storage”. It has onboard flash, but the only stated way of getting stuff out of it (it only has 1 port, for power) is through the “cloud” and their “app”. IE you’d better hope “Freewrite” are still going in 20 years, and that Google and whoever else haven’t dropped their storage service, or changed the API after Freewrite have gone out of business and can’t release updates any more. Without a browser, it’ll have trouble logging on to public Wifi spots, where the gateway demands your life story before you get a login, and will likely hinder any connections past simple HTTP.

      Just no! no! no! It’s practically guaranteed to be 100% useless in 5 years when they go bust. It’s 90% useless at it is.

      But yeah a properly designed “dumb” typewriter with nice visible E-ink isn’t a bad idea, and Ninjatrappeur’s idea here is good, certainly better than the ridiculous Freewrite, and I’m sure it’s much cheaper even though it’s a hand-made one-off. Also no stupid “cloud”, though I’m sure it could be added if he wanted to. But why would he?

      If he’d wanted to, M. Ninja could have done this much sleeker and a good bit lighter and smaller. That’d be truly nifty as a portable. Then again, leaving the house to write seems counter-productive, you’re supposed to reduce distractions. Sitting in a cafe like a knobhead for 5 hours doesn’t endear you to anyone.

      Anyway, for a writer this is a really good idea, and I bet it’d work. A PC, buzzing and fanning and pushing hundreds of watts about through a billion transistors and moving parts, isn’t relaxing or conducive to much beyond a headache. This nice, calm, humble machine I bet is much more effective. Same reason some writers still use mechanical typewriters, except this has editing and other nice features.

        1. Before that was the Cambridge Z88, with 640×64 pixels and a windowing operating system, with multiple apps but they’d freeze in the background rather than keep running. On a Z80 CPU, 4xAA batteries lasted 20 hours use or around a year standby. Took RAM and EPROM carts and had a serial port. Launched in 1987.

          And there’s been others, before and since, variations on the basic theme of LCD + keyboard. The Z88 was very popular with journalists and other writers on the move, I had one as a kid and loved programming it.

          But yeah the HipsterVision is just wrong, wrong, wrong! You really have to see a picture to see how bad the “knobs” are! Purely for pose-value, “industrial” knobs except too light and cheap to be industrial, and their purpose is shoehorned on just to give them a reason to be there as cool hipster toys.

          Shame there isn’t such a thing being made now. Probably a tablet + Bluetooth keyboard, or one of those hybrid things that are basically the same that Microsoft are pushing, has taken their place. I think deliberate lack of web access is important though, as is low power and simple UI. No multi-modal anything, no “scopes” or “focus”. No fucking Microsoft! The electro-typewriter still I think has a niche waiting. Especially for people who don’t want to fuss with all the technology, and believe me that’s almost everybody!

      1. i totally agree with you regarding not just the FreeWrite, but every over-engineered & overfunded Kickstarter / Indiegogo hipster appliance out there.

        sure a WiFi toaster oven or a Bluetooth wine bottle opener might sound cool now — if not a little excessive — but there is no way in hell that tiny college grad company is going to have longevity. and when they go under, whether they failed or just moved onto a new venture, the app needed to work it will go off the app stores. just like that, you have a new paper weight.

        don’t buy app-enabled gadgets from small companies.

  1. If you want to type without distraction and you don’t want to hack something, trawl the bay for an ‘AlphaSmart Dana’. When you’ve finished your short story, hook it up to your PC and it can install as a USB keyboard and then just types it all into whatever application you currently have open.

    1. I’m pretty happy with my Dana. I went the extra mile and installed a fresh rechargeable battery packet and set up palm desktop sync so I can back it up without much fuss. It is pretty comfy to write on, although I do get weird looks at the pub.

    1. Smug superiority aside, this is a problem that plenty of people over the age of six have. The internet is a next-level attention-capturing tool; it has been iteratively designed for decades–drawing from massive budgets–to “drive engagement” as hard as possible. It’s a very potent distraction for hundreds of millions of otherwise competent adults. Your snarky dismissal means nothing. You’re out here commenting on blogs, don’t pretend that you’ve never wasted precious time needlessly on the internet. Everyone does these days.

  2. Maybe use two different displays simultaneously? Mount an LCD below the E-ink display. As the user types, their input is displayed on the LCD, and when they strike Enter or hit end of line, the LCD clears and its contents is shifted to the E-ink display above.

    1. The “refresh” of an E-ink display is a slightly complicated thing. It can usually write a character very quickly, fraction of a second. It’s deleting it after that’s the issue. You can delete stuff quickly too, but it tends to leave a “ghost” image behind. To get the screen back to 100% clear, they tend to go full-black then full-white, which takes a couple of seconds.

      Speed also depends on colour depth. There was a guy on HAD a while ago who had Doom running on E-ink! The refresh rate was pretty fast, almost playable, in 1-bit. If he went full 16-colour it was much slower. And the “ghosts” started adding up. Ironically for a game where you kill Imps, Demons, and Barons Of Hell, there aren’t supposed to be any ghosts in Doom.

      So as long as he’s just adding letters as he types it’ll probably be OK. Scrolling up and down will be a problem. That’s for our guy to work round in the user interface design. If he’s using a pre-existing word processor that might limit what he can do. If it’s custom software, simple text editor, not so much of a problem.

      1. That black-white-text flashing sequence is what made me decide to not bother with an e-ink book reader when they first came out. I tried a demo unit at Staples. A few page changes and my eyes and brain said “No way in hell can we stand watching that.”. I’ve been reading ebooks since 2004. Started with a Handspring visor, then a Tungsten E2, followed by a LifeDrive, then it’s been a series of Android phones.

        1. I’ve read a few whole books on my Kobo. The flashing-page is only every 3 pages or so, and it’s partly configurable, within limits. There’s probably a jailbroke version somewhere that lets you set even more parameters.

          My big problem with the Kobo is it’s too small! So a Handspring with, what, 320×320? on a teeny screen would do my nut in. Can’t imagine reading for pleasure, or even as reference for a task at hand, on that. Same with phones, too small, the LCD isn’t easy enough on the eyes, and the battery won’t last 5 minutes with full screen use. Phones rely a LOT on switching stuff off whenever possible.

          I originally had the Kobo mini and didn’t think the size would be an issue. But I was wrong! Even now I sometimes use it sideways as a window on a taller page. Scrolling is fine and fast, particularly with monochrome text. Ghosting isn’t a problem, the odd reflashes you learn to just ignore soon enough.

          Modern readers use colour LCD, but, nah, E-ink is uniquely easy to read. It’s just about as real-ink as it’s possible to get. Real black stuff on light-grey stuff reflecting light, just the same as actual ink on paper.

          Mono passive LCD would be a runner-up but it’s not as viewable.

  3. Very cool. I would seriously consider doing this and starting with an Apple //e Platinum – less than $100 if you look around. They have a great sculpted mechanical keyboard with a numeric pad. Make a tilt-up for the display. Use any flavor of Pi-ish thing or an M series Cortex or ESP32 with MicroPython.

  4. There is a cottage industry of programs to perform this same function on a standard PC – “Writer”, a green-type throwback done online is apparently one of the favorites. The real problems start when you’re bound into the horror of references, footnotes, illustrations, tables etc. for more formal work as many of us are.

    I think I have a copy of PCWrite around here somewhere, though I doubt I remember the dot commands…

    1. Way back in the day, I used WordStar on CP/M 2.2 on a Xerox 820-II Information Processor, with a massive Diablo 630 daisy wheel printer. Extreme printing speed, until you wanted bold doublestrike underline.

      I assume Xerox didn’t call it a *computer* because of their total failure to capitalize on their own STAR and ALTO computer systems.

  5. Actually if you want a tip, and I bet this is something M. Le Ninja will think of himself, the angle of the screen is currently fixed by the hinge. It might be better to make the angle adjustable. Perhaps using something like a deck-chair mechanism, where a peg fits into one of a series of holes.

      1. Nah, a lot of torque would be on that pivot. Something that’s stiff, but gives easily enough, but then becomes and stays stiff after, is too much to ask for any material I ever heard of. You’d need a mechanism.

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