Back in the early days of computing, user terminals utilized line printers for output. Naturally this took an incredible amount of paper, but it came with the advantage of creating a hard copy of everything you did. Plus it was easy to annotate the terminal output with nothing more exotic than a ballpoint pen. But once CRT displays became more common, these paper terminals (also known as teleprinters, or teletypes) quickly fell out of style.
A fan of nostalgic hacks, [Drew DeVault] recently tried to recreate the old-school teletype experience with (somewhat) more modern hardware. He picked up an Epson LX-350 line printer, and with a relatively small amount of custom code, he was able to create a fairly close approximation of what it would have been like to use one of these terminals. He’s published all the source code, so if you’ve got an old line printer and a Linux box, you too can learn what it was like to measure your work day in reams of paper.
This is made possible by the fact that the modern Linux virtual terminal is simply a userspace emulation of those physical terminals of yore. [Drew] just need to write some code that would essentially spawn a shell on the Linux USB line printer device, plus sprinkle in some quality of life improvements such as using Epson’s proprietary ANSI escape sequences to feed the paper out far enough so the user can see what it says before pulling it back in to write the next interactive line.
Even if would never occur to you gift somebody a bootable flash drive, there’s a wealth of information in this blog post about Linux customization which could be useful for all sorts of projects. From creating a bootsplash image to automatically starting up a minimalistic windowing environment so a single graphical application takes center stage.
Whether you’re looking to tweak your desktop machine or build a Raspberry Pi kiosk, the commands and tips that [Stephen] shows off are sure to be interesting for anyone who’s not quite satisfied with how their Linux distribution of choice looks “out of the box”.
But there’s more to this project than a custom wallpaper and some retro fonts. [Stephen] actually took the time to create a facsimile of the “Personal Terminal” computer interface shown in the recent Alien: Isolation game in C using ncurses. The resulting program, aptly named “alien-console”, is released under the BSD license and is flexible enough that you could either use it as a base to build your own cyberpunk UI, or just load it up with custom text files and use it on your cyberdeck as-is.
Finally, to really sell the Alien feel, [Stephen] went through and ripped various audio clips from the film and wove them into the OS so it would make the movie-appropriate boops and beeps. He even included a track of the Nostromo’s ambient engine noise for proper immersion. But perhaps our favorite trick is the use of the sleep command to artificially slow down the terminal and give everything a bit more “weight”. After all, flying a pretend starship should feel like serious business.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, collaborating with others across great distances has become pretty simple. It’s easy now to share computer desktops over a network connection, and even take control of another person’s computer if the need arises. But these graphical tools are often overkill, especially if all we really need is to share a terminal session with someone else over a network.
A new project from [Elis] allows just that: to share an active terminal session over a web browser for anyone else to view. The browser accesses a “secret” URL which grants access to the terminal via a tunnel which is able to live stream the entire session. The server end takes care of all of the work of generating this URL, and it is encrypted with TLS and HTTPS. It also allows for remote control as well as viewing, so it is exceptionally well-featured for being simple and easy to run.
To run this software only a binary is needed, but [Elis] has also made the source code available. Currently he finds it a much more convenient way of administering his Raspberry Pi, but we can see a lot of use for this beyond the occasional headless server. Certainly this makes remote administration easy, but could be used collaboratively among a large group of people as well.
“Not as clumsy or random as Windows. An elegant terminal, for a more civilized age.” [Ben Kenobi] might well have said that about the Hewlett-Packard 264x-series of serial terminals, in use starting at just about the time the original installment of the Star Wars franchise was released. With their wide-screen CRTs and toaster-oven aesthetic, they were oddballs in the terminal market, and [CuriousMarc] has gone and made one even odder by converting an H-P 2645A to display the Aurebesh character set from the movies.
A look under the hood of this lovely bit of retrocomputing history makes one think the designers almost foresaw the need to add support for a made-up language nearly half a century later. The terminal has a backplane and bus for pluggable cards, one of which carries the ROMs that [Marc] extracted and reprogrammed with the Aurebesh characters. He had a little trouble at first, needing to bodge the chip select and forgetting that he had made other “special modifications” to the terminal. The video below shows the results, along with some fatherly mortification of his daughters and a suitable tribute to the lately late [Peter Mayhew], he who donned the Wookiee suit and made a seven-foot space Sasquatch lovable.
The Fallout series of video games provide a wonderful alternative history that answers the question of what might have happened had the microchip never been invented. Yes, most things run on tubes, and apparently you can implement an AI that passes a Turing test in tubes (does the Turing test apply if you’re comparing it against NPCs?). Of course, as with all of computer history, the coolest parts of Fallout are the computer terminals, so [LowBudgetTech] decided to build one. All the files are available, and if you have a Pi sitting around this is a good weekend project.
This terminal has a host of features that are well-suited for the modern vault dweller. Of note, the entire case is 3D printed, in multiple pieces. Sure, considering the display is an LCD it’s a tiny bit thick, but you don’t get the Atomic age aesthetic without a big CRT, do you? The keyboard is a standard, off-the-shelf mechanical keyboard for clicky goodness with vintage-style keycaps. There’s a 3.5″ USB floppy drive, because there’s nothing that will survive a nuclear holocaust like magnetic media. The rest of the build is a Raspberry Pi 3B+, which is more than enough compute power to open a door shaped like a gear.
As for what you would do with a retro-inspired Pi terminal, well, it would make a good computer for the workbench, and since the case is already designed for a 3.5″ drive, you could use this to archive some old media. If there’s one thing the apocalypse tells us, it’s that these old terminals will still be kicking after a few hundred years.
Before there was the Internet, there were a lot of would-be Internets. Compuserve comes to mind, as do Prodigy, GEnie, Delphi, and the innumerable BBS systems that were once gateways to worlds beyond our CRT monitors and 300 baud Hayes Supermodems.
Service providers varied by region, of course. The French postal and telephone service rolled out their service, Médium interactif par numérisation d’information téléphonique, in 1978. Mercifully and memorably shortened to Minitel, the service was originally intended primarily as an online telephone directory, and later expanded to include other services. [Kevin Driscoll] and [Julien Mailland] recently resurrected a Minitel terminal, a Videotex terminal that was the gateway to the service. The terminal they used, a model 1B, is a stylish machine with a monochrome CRT display and compact “AZERTY” keyboard. [Kevin] and [Julien] built a Videotex server for it using an Uno and a logic-level converter to keep the two talking. Using the hardware, they’ve developed a Twitter client, a webcam display, and dumb Linux terminal.
[John Whittington] failed to win a bid for an old VT-220 serial terminal on eBay, so he decided to make his own version and improve it along the way. The result is the Whitterm-220 (or WT-220) which has at its core a Raspberry Pi and is therefore capable of more than just acting as a ‘dumb’ serial terminal.
The enclosure is made from stacked panels of laser-cut plywood with an acrylic plate on the back for labels and connectors, where [John] worked paint into the label engravings before peeling off the acrylic’s protective film. By applying paint after laser-engraving but before peeling off the film, it acts as a fill and really makes the text pop.
Near the front, one layer of clear acrylic among the plywood layers acts as a light guide and serves as a power indicator, also doing double duty as TX/RX activity lights. When power is on, that layer glows, serving as an attractive indicator that doesn’t interfere with looking at the screen. When data is sent or received, a simple buffer circuit tied to the serial lines lights up LEDs to show TX or RX activity, with the ability to enable or disable this functionality by toggling a GPIO pin. A video overview is embedded below, where you can see the unit in action.