These days, nearly everyone communicates through some kind of keyboard, whether they are texting, emailing, or posting on various internet discussion forums. Talking over the phone is almost outmoded at this point. But only a few decades ago, the telephone was king of real-time communication. It was and still is a great invention, but unfortunately the technology left the hearing and speaking-impaired communities on an island of silence.
Engineer and professor Paul Taylor was born deaf in 1939, long before cochlear implants or the existence of laws that called for testing and early identification of hearing impairment in infants. At the age of three, his mother sent him by train to St. Louis to live at a boarding school called the Central Institute for the Deaf (CID).
Here, he was outfitted with a primitive hearing aid and learned to read lips, speak, and use American sign language. At the time, this was the standard plan for deaf and hearing-impaired children — to attend such a school for a decade or so and graduate with the social and academic tools they needed to succeed in public high schools and universities.
After college, Paul became an engineer and in his free time, a champion for the deaf community. He was a pioneer of Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf, better known as TDD or TTY equipment in the US. Later in life, he helped write legislation that became part of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you write software, chances are you’ve come across Continuous Integration, or CI. You might never have heard of it – but you wonder what all the ticks, badges and mysterious status icons are on open-source repositories you find online. You might hear friends waxing lyrical about the merits of CI, or grumbling about how their pipeline has broken again.
When it comes to building sets and props for movies and TV, it’s so easy to get science fiction wrong – particularly with low-budget productions. It must be tempting for the set department to fall back on the “get a bunch of stuff and paint it silver” model, which can make for a tedious experience for the technically savvy in the audience.
But low-budget does not necessarily mean low production values if the right people are involved. Take [Joel Hartlaub]’s recent work building sets for a crowdfunded sci-fi film called Infinitus. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that needed an underground bunker with a Fallout vibe to it, and [Joel] jumped at the chance to hack the sets together. Using mainly vintage electronic gear and foam insulation boards CNC-routed into convincing panels, he built nicely detailed control consoles for the bunker. A voice communicator was built from an old tube-type table radio case with some seven-segment displays, and the chassis of an old LCD projector made a convincing portable computer terminal. The nicest hack was for the control panel of the airlock door. That used an old TDD, or telecommunications device for the deaf. With a keyboard and a VFD display, it fit right into the feel of the set. But [Joel] went the extra mile to make it a practical piece, by recording the modulated tones from the acoustic coupler and playing them back, to make it look as if a message was coming in. The airlock door looks great too.
Like many hacks, it’s pretty impressive what you can accomplish with a deep junk pile and a little imagination. But if you’ve got a bigger budget and you need some computer displays created, we know just the person for the job.
A few months ago, [Ulysses] had a project in mind that would run Zork on a TDD. Although it was a bit of a struggle getting the project ready in time for the Bay Area Maker’s Faire, the accompanying build blog tells us it was more than worth the effort.
After hooking up the guts of the phone to an Arduino Pro, A modem was modified so the acoustically coupled TDD could be interfaced. Although the TDD display is only one line, [Ulysses] is transmitting the text at only 45.5 baud, So even the slowest reader could keep up with the story. For running the actual code, initial attempts at using an Arduino Pro, and then Arduino Mega proved unsuccessful because of the limitations of sram in these AVRs. After discarding the idea of running Zork on an Arduino, the project was finished with a single board FitPC computer mounted inside the phone.
The code of the project runs Zork on a port of the Infocom Z-code Interpreter Program, or ZIP. A lot of interactive text adventures were put out in the Z-code format, so we’re guessing it would be trivial to have this project run Leather Goddesses of Phobos, or the amazing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a very nice project, and we could easily see ourselves sitting down with this project, a two liter bottle of Shasta, and an all-Rush mix tape on a Saturday night.