Building Up Unicode Characters One Bit At A Time

The range of characters that can be represented by Unicode is truly bewildering. If there’s a symbol that was ever used to represent a sound or a concept anywhere in the world, chances are pretty good that you can find it somewhere in Unicode. But can many of us recall the proper keyboard calisthenics needed to call forth a particular character at will? Probably not, which is where this Unicode binary input terminal may offer some relief.

“Surely they can’t be suggesting that entering Unicode characters as a sequence of bytes using toggle switches is somehow easier than looking up the numpad shortcut?” we hear you cry. No, but we suspect that’s hardly [Stephen Holdaway]’s intention with this build. Rather, it seems geared specifically at making the process of keying in Unicode harder, but cooler; after all, it was originally his intention to enter this in last year’s Odd Inputs and Peculiar Peripherals contest. [Stephen] didn’t feel it was quite ready at the time, but now we’ve got a chance to give this project a once-over.

The idea is simple: a bank of eight toggle switches (with LEDs, of course) is used to compose the desired UTF-8 character, which is made up of one to four bytes. Each byte is added to a buffer with a separate “shift/clear” momentary toggle, and eventually sent out over USB with a flick of the “send” toggle. [Stephen] thoughtfully included a tiny LCD screen to keep track of the character being composed, so you know what you’re sending down the line. Behind the handsome brushed aluminum panel, a Pi Pico runs the show, drawing glyphs from an SD card containing 200 MB of True Type Font files.

At the end of the day, it’s tempting to look at this as an attractive but essentially useless project. We beg to differ, though — there’s a lot to learn about Unicode, and [Stephen] certainly knocked that off his bucket list with this build. There’s also something wonderfully tactile about this interface, and we’d imagine that composing each codepoint is pretty illustrative of how UTF-8 is organized. Sounds like an all-around win to us.

Your Handwriting Is Now Your Font

They say your handwriting is as unique to you as is your fingerprint. Maybe they are right Рperhaps every person adds a little bit of his or her personality to their penmanship. Just maybe there are enough ways to vary pressure, speed, stroke, and a dozen other almost imperceptible factors that all 7 billion of us have a slightly different style.

The study of handwriting is called Graphology, and people have been at it for a quite a long time. Most experts agree that a person’s handwriting can reveal their gender, where it starts to get fuzzy is that others claim they can tell much more including age, race, weight, and even mood. Going further down the rabbit hole, some employers have tried to use handwriting analysis to determine if an applicant is a match for a position. That seems a bit of a stretch to us.

Now, if you want to digitize a tiny bit of what makes you, you – then all you have to do it to fill out this (PDF) form and upload it to the interwebs. Out the other end will pop a true type font that you can save for yourself or share with the world. Why would you want to do that? This hack caught our eye as a way of adding annotations to our work in a more informal, yet still personal manner. Or maybe we just wanted to upload it to the cloud in hopes it would live forever. Either way, if you want to see some really amazing style, head on over to the “Penmanship Porn” subreddit where you can find some amazing chicken scratch.