3D Printed Terminal Takes Computing Back In Time

It’s hard to look at today as anything but the golden age of computing. Even entry level machines have quad-core processors and a terabyte or more of storage space, to say nothing of the incredible amount of tech packed into the modern smartphone. But even so, there’s something to be said for the elegant simplicity of early desktop computers.

Looking to recreate the feeling of those bygone days, [Pigeonaut] created the Callisto II. Its entirely 3D printed case snaps together without glue or screws, making it easy to assemble, and the parts have been sized so they’ll be printable even on smaller machines like the Prusa Mini. Inside you’ll find a 1024×768 Pimoroni HDMI 8″ IPS LCD, 60% mechanical keyboard, four-port USB 3 hub, Raspberry Pi 4, and a 22 watt USB power supply to run it all.

The internal components can be easily accessed with the hatch on the rear of the case, and there’s plenty of room inside to add new hardware should you want to toss in a hard drive or even swap out the Pi for a different single-board computer.

To really drive home the faux-retro concept of the Callisto II, [Pigeonaut] has created a website for the fictional computer company behind the machine, replete with all the trappings you’d expect from the early web. There’s even a web-based “operating system” you can use to show off your freshly printed Callisto II.

Incidentally the II suffix isn’t just part of the meme, there really was a Callisto before this one. We covered the earlier machine back in 2019, and while we’re a bit sad to see that the functional 3.5 inch floppy drive has been deleted, we can’t deny the overall aesthetics have been greatly improved in the latest version.

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Minimal UART Computer

[Carsten] spent over a year developing a small CPU system, implementing his own minimalist instruction set entirely in TTL logic. The system uses a serial terminal interface for all I/O, hence the term UART in the title. [Carsten] began building this computer on multiple breadboards, which quickly got out of hand.

He moved the design over to a PCB, but he was still restless. This latest revision replaces EEPROM with cheaper and easier to use CMOS Flash chips, and the OS gains a small file system manager. As he says in the video, his enemy is feature creep.

Tetris on the UART Computer

In addition to designing this CPU project, [Carsten] built an assembler and wrote a substantial operating system and various demo programs and games. He not only learned KiCAD to make this board, but also taught himself to use an auto-router. The KiCAD design, Gerbers, and BOM are all provided in his repository above. ROM images and source code are provided, as well as a Windows cross-assembler. But wait – there’s more. He also wrote a cycle exact emulator of the CPU, which, as he rightfully brags, comes in at under 250 lines of C++ code. This whole project is an amazing undertaking and represents a lot of good work. We hope he will eventually release the assembler project as well, in case others want to take on the challenge of building it to run under Linux or MacOS. Despite this, the documentation of the Minimal UART Computer is excellent.

[Carsten] claims the project has finally passed the finish line of his design requirements, but we wonder, will he really stop here? Do check out his YouTube channel for further informative videos. And thanks to [Bruce] for sending in the tip.

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Print-in-Place Connectors Aim To Make Wiring Easier

One thing some of us here in the United States have always been jealous of is the WAGO connectors that seem so common in electrical wiring everywhere else in the world. We often wonder why the electrical trades here haven’t adopted them more widely — after all, they’re faster to use than traditional wire nuts, and time is money on the job site.

Wago 221 compact lever connector via the Wago YouTube channel

This print-in-place electrical connector is inspired by the WAGO connectors, specifically their Lever Nut series. We’ll be clear right up front that [Tomáš “Harvie” Mudruňka’s] connector is more of an homage to the commercially available units, and should not be used for critical applications. Plus, as a 3D-printed part, it would be hard to compete with something optimized to be manufactured in the millions. But the idea is pretty slick. The print-in-place part has a vaguely heart-shaped cage with a lever arm trapped inside it.

After printing and freeing the lever arm, a small piece of 1.3-mm (16 AWG) solid copper wire is inserted into a groove. The wire acts as a busbar against which the lever arm squeezes conductors. The lever cams into a groove on the opposite wall of the cage, making a strong physical and electrical connection. The video below shows the connectors being built and tested.

We love the combination of print-in-place, compliant mechanisms, and composite construction on display here. It reminds us a bit of these printable SMD tape tamers, or this print-in-place engine benchmark.

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Retro Terminals Bring Some Style To Your Desktop

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.

But [Oriol Ferrer Mesià] wonders if we couldn’t improve on things a bit. Over the last few months, he’s been experimenting with small 3D printed enclosures that reimagine the traditional desktop computer aesthetic. With their distinctively retro-futuristic style, they look like the kind of gadgets science magazines in the 1960s thought would be dotting kitchens, living rooms, and space stations by the year 2000. But unlike those fanciful creations, each one of these beauties is a fully functional computer.

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.

But we particularly like the ultra-widescreen design that [Oriol] has come up with. With a fairly unusual 4:1 aspect ratio LCD, the printed enclosure for this one was so large that it had to be done in two pieces on his Ender 3. To keep the 8″ 1920 x 480 panel well fed, this design uses a Jetson Nano 2GB which has considerably more graphical punch than other Linux SBCs of similar size and price.

As part of the recent cyberdeck craze, we’ve seen plenty of people recreating the look and feel of vintage portable computers with 3D printed cases and modern components. Desktop creations have been far less common, but with gorgeous designs like these to serve as inspiration, that may change.

A Portable Serial Terminal That Should Be From The 1970s

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.

By comparison, here’s a terminal using technology from today.

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3D Printed Video Terminal Dials C For Cyberpunk

Created for the Disobey 2020 hacker conference in Finland, this Blade Runner inspired communications terminal isn’t just for decoration. It was part of an interactive game that required attendees to physically connect their conference badges up and “call” different characters with the functional keypad on the front of the unit.

[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.

A look at the custom keypad PCB.

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.

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Seeing Code: The Widescreen Rant

A couple of weeks ago, Linus Torvalds laid down the law, in a particularly Linusesque sort of way. In a software community where tabs vs. spaces can start religious wars, saying that 80-character-wide code was obsolete was, to some, utter heresy. For more background on how we got here, read [Sven Gregori]’s history piece on Hackaday, and you’ll learn that sliced bread and the 80-character IBM punch card both made their debut in July, 1928. But I digress.

When I look at a codebase, I like to see its structure, and I’m not alone. That’s one of the reasons for the Linux Kernel style guide’s ridiculously wide 8-character tabs. Combined with a trend for variable names becoming more and more descriptive, which I take to be a good thing, and monitors’ aspect ratios growing seemingly without end, which I don’t, the 80-column width seems like a relic from the long-gone era of the VT-220.

Hazeltine TerminalIn Linus’ missive, we learn that he runs terminals at 100 x 50, and frequently drags them out to a screen-filling 142 x 76. (Amateur! I write this to you now on 187 x 48.) When you’re running this wide, it doesn’t make any sense to line-wrap argument lists, even if you’re using Hungarian notation.

And yet, change is painful. I’ve had to re-format code to meet 73-column restrictions for a book, only to discover that my inline comments were too verbose. Removing even an artificial restriction like the 80-column limit will have real effects. I write longer paragraphs, for instance, on a wider screen.

I see a few good things to come out of this, though. If single thoughts can be expressed on single lines, it makes the shape of the code better reflect its function. Getting rid of pointless wrapping takes up less vertical space, which is at a premium on today’s cinematic monitors. And if it makes inline comments better (I know, another holy war!) or facilitates better variable naming, it will have been worth it.

But any way you slice it, we’re no longer typing on the old 80-character Hazeltine. It’s high time for our coding style and practice to catch up.