TV Typewriter Remembered

With the recent passing of Don Lancaster, I took a minute to reflect on how far things have come in a pretty short period of time. If you somehow acquired a computer in the early 1970s, it was probably some discarded DEC, HP, or Data General machine. A few people built their own, but that was a stout project with no microprocessor chips readily available. When machines like the Mark-8 and, more famously, the Altair appeared, the number of people with a “home computer” swelled — relatively speaking — and it left a major problem: What kind of input/output device could you use?

An ad from Kilobaud offered you a ready-to-go, surely refurbished, ASR33 for $840

At work, you might have TeleType. Most of those were leased, and the price tag of a new one was somewhere around $1,000. Remember, too, that $1,000 in 1975 was a small fortune. Really lucky people had video terminals, but those were often well over $1,500, although Lear Siegler introduced one at the $1,000 price, and it became wildly successful. Snagging a used terminal was not very likely, and surplus TeleType equipment was likely of the 5-bit Baudot variety — not unusable, but not the terminal you really wanted.

A lot of the cost of a video terminal was the screen. Yet nearly everyone had a TV, and used TVs have always been fairly cheap, too. That’s where Don Lancaster came in. His TV Typewriter Cookbook was the bible for homebrew video displays. The design influenced the Apple 1 computer and spawned a successful kit for a company known as Southwest Technical Products. For around $300 or so, you could have a terminal that uses your TV for output. Continue reading “TV Typewriter Remembered”

Saying Goodbye To Don Lancaster

The electronics world has lost a guru. On June 7th this year, Don Lancaster passed away. [Brad] from Tech Time Traveller paid tribute to Don in a recent video. Don Lancaster was perhaps best known as the designer of the TV Typewriter.  The Typewriter drew characters on a TV screen when the user typed on a keyboard. It was the fundamental part of a simple terminal. This was quite an accomplishment in 1973 when the article was first published.

Don embodied the hacker spirit by figuring out low-cost (cheap) ways to overcome obstacles. His genius was his ability to communicate his methods in a way even non-technical people could understand. Keyboards are a great example. Back in the 1970’s a simple keyboard cost hundreds of dollars. Don figured out how to build one from scratch and published an article explaining how to do it.

Like many people we cover here on Hackaday, Don was quite a character. His website layout hasn’t changed much since the 1990’s, but the content has grown. To say he was a prolific writer would be an understatement. PostScript, Magic Sinewaves, and patents are just a few of his favorite topics. Don’s recent work involved the research of prehistoric canals in the American Southwest.

Everyone here at Hackaday sends our deepest condolences to Don’s family.

Continue reading “Saying Goodbye To Don Lancaster”