Run a Linux Terminal on Cheap E-Ink Displays

If you haven’t kept up with the world of e-ink displays, here’s some good news: they are pretty cheap now. For as little as $15 you can get a small e-ink display that has good enough performance and contrast to actually do something useful. There’s only one problem: figuring out how to drive them in your project.

Tired of seeing nothing but wiring diagrams and sample code when it came to actually putting these e-ink modules to use, [Jouko Strömmer] decided to try his hand at creating a turn-key application for these gorgeous little displays. The result is PaperTTY, a Python program that allows the user to open up a fully functional Linux virtual terminal on an e-ink display.

Of course, there are some caveats. For one, this all assumes you’re using a Waveshare display (specifically their 2.13 inch HAT) connected to a Raspberry Pi over SPI. Not to say that’s the only hardware combination that will work, but it’s the only one that [Jouko] has done any testing on at this point. If you want to try to shake things up in terms of hardware, you might need to get your hands dirty.

The advantage of being able to open a Linux VT on one of these e-ink displays is pretty simple: you can run basically any piece of software you want on it. Rather than having to come up with software that specifically features support for the display, you can just use (or write) standard Linux console programs. [Jouko] mentions a number of popular programs such as vim and irssi, but you could just as easily write a Bash script to dump whatever data you like to the screen.

In the video after the break [Jouko] shows PaperTTY in action for the doubters who think these sorts of displays are no good for interactive use. The display is very crisp and readable, with no signs of flickering. Overall he says the experience is not unlike using a slow SSH connection. It might not be how we’d like to use a computer full time, but we can definitely see the potential.

With the recent progress with Kindle hacking, it seems that interest in e-ink is as high as ever. Despite what the haters might claim, it’s a useful niche tech that still holds plenty of promise.

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Ask Hackaday: Whatever Happened to Wire Wrapping?

Back in the 70s when I started getting interested in electronics, tons of magazines catered to the hobbyist market. Popular Electronics was my favorite, and I think I remember the advertisements more than anything, probably because they outnumbered articles by a large margin. Looking back, it seemed like a lot of ad space was sold to companies hawking the tools and materials needed for wire wrapping, which was very popular for prototyping in the days before solderless breadboards were readily available. I remember beauty shots of neat rows of small, gold posts, with stripped wires wrapped evenly around them.

To the budding hobbyist, wire wrapping looked like the skill to have. With a huge selection of posts, terminals, and sockets for ICs and discrete components, as well as a wide range of manual and powered wrapping tools, it seemed like you could build anything with wire wrapping. But fast forward just a decade or so, and wire wrapping seemed to drop out of favor. And today — well, does anyone even wire wrap anymore?

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Pocket-Sized Workstation Sports Pi Zero, Pop-Up Screen

Many of us could use a general-purpose portable workstation, something small enough to pocket but still be ready for a quick troubleshooting session. Terminal apps on a smartphone will usually do the job fine, but they lack the panache of this pocketable pop-top Raspberry Pi workstation.

It doesn’t appear that [Michael Horne] has a specific mission in mind for his tiny Linux machine, but that’s OK — we respect art for art’s sake. The star of the show is the case itself, a unit intended for dashboard use with a mobile DVD player or backup camera. The screen is a 4.3″ TFT with a relatively low-resolution, so [Michael] wasn’t expecting too much from it. And he faced some challenges, like dealing with the different voltage needs for the display and the Raspberry Pi Zero W he intended to stuff into the base. Luckily, the display regulates the 12-volt supply internally to 3.3-volts, so he just tapped into the 3.3-volt pin on the Pi and powered everything from a USB charger. The display also has some smarts built in, blanking until composite video is applied, which caused a bit of confusion at first. A few case mods to bring connectors out, a wireless keyboard, and he had a nice little machine for whatever.

No interest in a GUI machine? Need a text-only serial terminal? We’ve seen that before too. And here’s one with a nice slide-out keyboard built in.

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Raspberry Pi Zero Drives Tiny RC Truck

We’re not sure which is more fun – putting together a little RC truck with parts laying around on your workbench, or driving it around through a Linux terminal. We’ll take the easy road and say they’re both equally fun. [technodict] had some spare time on his hands and decided to build such a truck.

He started off with a great little chassis that can act as the base for many projects. Powering the four motors is a cheap little dual H bridge motor driver and a couple rechargeable batteries. But the neatest part of this build is that it’s controlled using a little bit of python and driven directly from a terminal, made possible by the Raspberry Pi Zero of course.

With Raspberry Pi Zero now having built in WiFi and Bluetooth – we should see a lot more projects popping up with one at its heart. Be sure to visit [technodict’s] blog for full source and details. And let us know how you could use that little chassis for your next mobile project!

Tiny, Wearable 8-Bit VT100 Terminal

In the modern era of computing, the end-user is often quite far removed from the machine they’re using. At least in terms of abstraction levels, the user experience of most computers, smart phones, and the like are very far away from the zeros and ones. If you need to get down to that level though, you’ll have to make your way to a terminal somehow, and reminisce fondly about the days when everything was accessed through a serial line.

Nowadays, some harmless nostalgia is often accompanied by a challenge as well, as [Nick] demonstrated with his tiny serial terminal. It mimics the parsing and rendering of a VT100 console using an Arduino Uno and a 1″x1″ TFT screen. His goal was to make it wearable like a wristwatch would be, using two buttons as an HID device. With the size and simple interface, [Nick] also explores the possibility of mounting such a terminal to a pair of glasses.

While not everyone may want to interact with a serial terminal with only two buttons, it’s certainly a great demonstration of what is possible when it comes to implementing retro software in unique ways. There have been serial terminals implemented in many other unique places as well, such as old oscilloscopes and replicas from popular video games.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Pocket Serial Terminal

When you have a microcontroller or other microcomputer on the bench in front of you and it lacks the familiar keyboard and display of a modern desktop computer, what do you do when you wish to program it or otherwise issue commands? Unless you are a retro computer enthusiast who longs for a set of Altair-style toggle switches, the chances are you’ll find its serial port and attach a terminal.

Serial terminals, devices containing a screen and keyboard hooked up to send and display text from a serial port, used to be a staple of computing, but as standalone devices, they’re now rather rare. In most cases nowadays using a serial terminal will mean opening up a terminal emulator in your modern OS, Linux, Windows, or MacOS, but there is still a use for standalone hardware. [Kuldeep Singh Dhaka] certainly thinks so, because he’s making an extremely nice portable terminal with an LCD screen.

The terminal emulates a venerable DEC VT-100 terminal, but since it’s built around an STM32F105 ARM microcontroller we’re sure it could emulate other models with appropriate software. It takes either a USB or a PS/2 keyboard, so we’d expect to see it paired with a suitably tiny portable keyboard when it in use. There is no source code available for it yet since this is very much still a project in development that we’re featuring now because it is a 2017 Hackaday Prize entry, but he assures us that code will be on its way and it will be GPL licenced.

He’s even posted a video that we’ve placed below the break of the device in operation, connected to a machine running MicroPython. We’d probably turn off that beep, though.

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Replica Fallout Terminal

If you’ve played Fallout 4, you’re familiar with the wall-mounted terminals in the game. They’ve got a post-apocalyptic aesthetic and the glowing green screen that calls out to anyone that grew up with computers and hacker movies from the 80s and 90s. Remember the first time you set your command line text to green? Don’t be embarrassed, we were all young once.

[PowerUpProps] liked the Fallout terminal so much they developed a replica. It’s a build that leans heavily on maker standards, a Raspberry Pi and 3D printing form the basis of the terminal. With ready access to such powerful tools, it makes starting such a project much more approachable. The key to the success of this build is the fine attention to detail in the finishing – the paint job looks incredible, and when photographed appropriately, it could be mistaken for the real thing an in-game screenshot.

An interesting touch is the use of a dark green acrylic window in front of the LCD, which gives the display a tinted hue. We’d like to see this compared with a clear glass window with a classic fishbowl curve to it, combined with greening up in software. The creator readily admits that this looks great at the command line, but is somewhat of a letdown when using the GUI.

Perhaps the only thing the prop build could use is some sort of user interface — the keyboard is only 3D printed and there’s no mouse or other pointing device included. There are some creative solutions to this problem, which we often see in other Fallout projects, like the ever popular Pip-Boy replica builds.

[Thanks to Sjoerd for the tip!]