It wasn’t so long ago that a desktop computer was just a beige box with another, heavier, beige box sitting next to it or maybe perched on top. They’re a bit more visually exciting these days, with even mass produced PCs now shipping with RGB lighting and clear side panels. But even so, few could really look at a modern desktop computer and call it objectively beautiful.
A few of the designs are relatively conservative, and not entirely unlike some of the old “dumb terminals” of the 1970s. With a Raspberry Pi 4 and a tablet-sized screen, these diminutive terminals would be perfectly usable for light desktop work or some retro gaming.
At some point or another, many of us have tried to see how much of our digital lives could be accessed from the comfort of a terminal. We’ve tried Alpine for email, W3M for web browsing, and even watched Star Wars via telnet. But, in the increasingly socially-distant world we find ourselves in today, we find ourselves asking: what about video calling?
As you may have guessed, [Andy]’s solution replaces the conventional video stream we’re all used to with realtime animated ASCII art. The system works by capturing a video stream from a webcam, “compressing” each pixel by converting it into an ASCII character, and stuffing the entire frame into a TCP packet. Each client is connected to a server (meeting room?) which coordinates the packets, sending them back and forth appropriately.
As impressive as it is impractical, the only area in which the project lacks is in audio. [Andy] suggests using Discord to solve that, but here’s hoping we see subtitles in version 2! Will AsciiZOOM be replacing our favorite videoconferencing suite any time soon? No. Are we glad it exists? You betcha.
The humble standalone serial terminal might be long gone from the collective computing experience, but in the ghostly form of a software virtual terminal and a serial converter it remains the most basic fall-back and essential tool of the computer hardware hacker. [Mitsuru Yamada] has created the product that should have been made in the serial terminal’s heyday, a standalone handheld terminal using a 6809 microprocessor and vintage HP dot matrix LEDs. In a die-cast box with full push-button keyboard it’s entirely ready to roll up to a DB-25 wall socket and log into the PDP/11 in the basement.
Using today’s parts we might achieve the same feat with a single-chip microcontroller and a small LCD or OLED panel, but with an older microcomputer there is more system-building required. The 6809 is a wise choice from the 1970s arsenal because it has some on-board RAM, thus there’s no need for a RAM chip. Thus the whole thing is achieved with only a 2716 EPROM for the software, a 6850 UART with MAX232 driver for the serial port, and a few 74 chips for glue logic, chip selects, and I/O ports to handle keyboard and display. There’s no battery in the case, but no doubt that could be easily accommodated. Also there’s not much information on the keyboard itself, but in the video below we catch a glimpse of its wiring as the box is opened.
The value in a terminal using vintage parts lies not only in because you can, but also in something that can’t easily be had with a modern microcontroller. These parts come from a time when a computer system had to be assembled as a series of peripherals round the microprocessor because it had few onboard, leading to a far more in-depth understanding of a computer system. It’s not that a 6809 is a sensible choice in 2020, more that it’s an interesting one.
[Purkkaviritys] was in charge of designing the 3D printed enclosure for the device, which he says takes an entire 2 kg roll of filament to print out. Unfortunately he wasn’t as involved in the electronics side of things, so we don’t have a whole lot of information about the internals beyond the fact that its powered by a Raspberry Pi 4, features a HyperPixel 4.0 display, and uses power over Ethernet so it could be easily set up at the con with just a single cable run.
The keypad is a custom input device using the Arduino Micro and Cherry MX Blue switches with 3D printed keycaps to get that chunky payphone look and feel. [Purkkaviritys] mentions that the keypad is also responsible for controlling the RGB LED strips built into the sides of the terminal, and that the Raspberry Pi toggles the status of the Caps, Scroll Lock, and Num Lock keys to select the different lighting patterns.
Naturally we’d like to see more info on how this beauty was put together, but given that it was built for such a specific purpose, it’s not like you’d really need to duplicate the original configuration anyway. Thanks to [Purkkaviritys] you have the STL files to print off our own copy of the gloriously cyberpunk enclosure, all you’ve got to do now is figure out how to make video calls with it.
Old TeleTypes and even typewriters had bells. Real bells. So that ASCII BEL character is supposed to make an honest to goodness ringing sound. While some modern terminals make a beep from the computer speakers, it isn’t the same. [Tenderlove] must agree, because the turned a Microchip USB to I2C bridge chip into a HID-controlled bell.
The only problem we see is that you have to have a patch to your terminal to ring the bell. We’d love to see some filter for TCP or serial that would catch BEL characters, but on the plus side, it is easy to ring the bell from any sort of application since it responds to normal HID commands.
The mobile phone revolution has delivered us attractively packaged and convenient computing in our pockets, but without the easy hackability we like in our community. Meanwhile the advent of single board computers has given us affordable super-powerful hardware that can run a very capable GNU/Linux operating system and fulfill all our hackable computing needs. Combine the two though? Plenty have tried, few have succeeded in making something as slick as the former with the open power of the latter. Fine if you like your portable devices to have a cyberdeck vibe, but maybe not something you’d take into the boardrooom. Never fear though, for [N-O-D-E] have the solution, in version 3 of the Zero Terminal. It’s the ultimate in Raspberry Pi based handheld computing, and it resembles a slightly chunky mobile phone.
At its heart is a Waveshare OLED 5.5″ touch screen, on the back owhich is mounted a PCB that carries a USB hub and power circuitry. A Pi Zero is mounted directly to this, and a cleverly designed HDMI adapter board interfaces it to the display. The power board is a generic one, the one designed for the PCB proved difficult to hand solder. There’s a very smartly designed case to give it that mobile phone feel, and on the back are a set of sockets with all the relevant Pi connections. This opens the possibility of some exciting add-ons, the first of which is a sliding keyboard similar to those on early Android phones. The ‘board is based on a [Bobricius] design, though sadly isn’t quite working yet.
As you can see in the video below the break, this is about as slick a mobile Pi as it’s possible to get. [N-O-D-E], we want one. Just take our money!
So how do you get the latest and greatest in home automation talking to a serial terminal built before the Internet as we know it? With Python, of course. [Daniel] has some code running on a Linux server that’s actually taking to his various smart home gadgets, which then spits out a simple ASCII user interface that his circa 1976 ADM-3A terminal can handle; complete with a floor plan view of the house that shows the temperature in different rooms.