Converting An 80s Typewriter Into A Linux Terminal

Typewriters may be long past their heyday, but just because PCs, word processor software, and cheap printers have made them largely obsolete doesn’t mean the world is better off without them. Using a typewriter is a rich sensory experience, from the feel of the keys under your fingers that even the clickiest of PC keyboards can’t compare with, to the weirdly universal sound of the type hitting paper.

So if life hands you a typewriter, why not put it back to work? That’s exactly what [Artillect] did by converting an 80s typewriter into a Linux terminal. The typewriter is a Brother AX-25, one of those electronic typewriters that predated word processing software and had a daisy wheel printhead, a small LCD display, and a whopping 8k of memory for editing documents. [Artillect] started his build by figuring out which keys mapped to which characters in the typewriter’s 8×11 matrix, and then turning an Arduino and two multiplexers loose on the driving the print head. The typewriter’s keyboard is yet used for input, as the project is still very much in the prototyping phase, so a Raspberry Pi acts as a serial monitor between the typewriter and a laptop. The video below has a good overview of the wiring and the software, and shows the typewriter banging out Linux command line output.

For now, [Artillect]’s typewriter acts basically like an old-school teletype. There’s plenty of room to take this further; we’d love to see this turned into a cyberdeck complete with a built-in printer, for instance. But even just as a proof of concept, this is pretty great, and you can be sure we’ll be trolling the thrift stores and yard sales looking for old typewriters.

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Modular Z80 Really Racks Up The Retrocomputer Cred

Very few retrocomputing projects are anything other than a labor of love. There’s really no practical reason to build a computer that is woefully inadequate for just about any task compared to even an entry-level PC today. But the lack of a practical reason to do something rarely stops a hacker, as with this nifty modular Z80-based rack computer.

Actually, there’s at least one area where retrocomputers excel compared to their modern multi-core gigahertz counterparts — and that’s nostalgia. That’s what [Ricardo Kaltchuk] was going for with his build, which started by finding a Z80 and an Intel 8251 USART in his parts bin. Those formed the core of what would become the “Proton” computer, a modular beauty built around 7 cm by 10 cm PCBs that plug into a backplane inside a rack made from aluminum angle. Aside from the power supply and the Z80 CPU, other modules include a RAM card with a zero insertion force socket for an EPROM, a mass-storage module sporting a 128 MB Compact Flash card, plus modules for standard serial and I2C comms.

The fit and finish are excellent, and the performance is impressive. The Proton runs CP/M and boasts a ton of old applications that will bring back some memories, like SuperCalc and dBase. We’d venture a bet that WordStar is in there someplace, or easily could be. The video below is a little rough, but shows everything off really well.

In some ways, the Proton reminds us of the RC2014, but its fit and finish are what bring this build home. That’s not to take away from the work [Ricardo] obviously put into documentation, though. The 62-page manual has every detail of every module, plus instructions for building one of your own.

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A Baudot Code Speaking Chatterbot With A Freakish Twist

[Sam Battle] known on YouTube as [Look Mum No Computer] is mostly known as a musical artist, but seems lately to have taken a bit of shine to retro telecoms gear, and this latest foray is into the realm of the minicom tty device which was a lifeline for those not blessed with ability to hear well enough to communicate via telephone. Since in this modern era of chatting via the internet, it is becoming much harder to actually find another user with a minicom, [Sam] decided to take the human out of the loop entirely and have the minicom user talk instead to a Raspberry Pi running an instance of MegaHal, which is 1990s era chatterbot.  The idea of this build (that became an exhibit in this museum is not obsolete) was to have an number of minicom terminals around the room connected via the internal telephone network (and the retro telephone exchange {Sam] maintains) to a line interface module, based upon the Mitel MH88422 chip. This handy device allows a Raspberry Pi to interface to the telephone line, and answer calls, with all the usual handshaking taken care of. The audio signal from the Mitel interface is fed to the Pi via a USB audio interface (since the Pi has no audio input) module.

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Paul Taylor Opened The Lines Of Telecommunication For The Hearing-Impaired

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.

Paul and an early TDD. Image via Rochester Institute of Technology

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.

Paul was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017 and died in January of 2021 at the age of 81. He always believed that the more access a deaf person had to technology, the better their life would be, and spent much of his life trying to use technology to improve the deaf experience.

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Foam Board, Old Electronics, And Imagination Make Movie Magic

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.

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Linux Fu: Share Terminal In Browser

The title of this post says it all: GoTTY is a program that lets you share Linux terminal applications into a web browser. It is a simple web server written in Go that runs a non-GUI program and can push it out a socket in such a way that a browser can display it and, optionally, let the user interact with it.

With the emphasis on security these days, that ought to alarm you. After all, why would you want a shell running in a browser? Hang on, though. While that is possible — and not always undesirable — the real value to this technique is to run a specific command line program in a browser window. Here’s a use case: You want users to remotely monitor a system using top (or htop, if you are fancy). But you don’t want users logging into the system nor do you want to require them to have ssh clients. You don’t want to install monitoring tools, just use what you already have.

If you could get the output from top to show up in a browser window — even if the users had no ability to input — that would be an easy solution. Granted, you could just run top in batch mode, collect the output, and write it somewhere that a web server could find it. Assuming you have a web server installed, of course. But then what if you did want some other features like taking command line options or having the option for (hopefully) authenticated users to interact with the software? Now that would be more complicated. With GoTTY, it is easy.

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Teletype Machine Resurrected

A teleprinter is, at its heart, an automatic typewriter.  It’s electrically controlled and has some smarts to be able to decode an incoming message and has something that will move the keys.   These printers have been in use since the late 1800’s and [AethericLtd] have refurbished an old 1930’s design and given it a bit of steampunk flair.

As is common with older mechanical devices that have been sitting for extended periods of time, the first thing this machine needed was a bath. The machine was separated into its three main parts and soaked in a degreasing solvent. The keyboard was the dirtiest, so it got an overnight soak. Since little of the mechanism was electrical, most of it could be submerged which helped with the cleaning.

The next step in the restoration was lubrication. In order to do a proper job, the manuals (which were available online) were consulted and synthetic motor oil used for lubrication. Once all the hundreds of parts were oiled, [AethericLtd] started working on the wiring. The original wiring in this machine was called Deltabeston – a type of wire by General Electric which uses asbestos insulation. To play it safe, that wire was left alone. The selector magnet required only 4 volts to pull up, but 4 volts wasn’t enough to run the machine. The power supply used was a 120 VDC, 200 mA supply through a 2 KΩ, 10 W resistor.

Once everything was back together and working, [AethericLtd] could take machine out and show it off. The website describes not only the restoration process but also the setup, how to connect to the machine and how to communicate with the machine. Great work! If you are interested in these machines, there have been a few Teleprinter projects on the site before: this one has been modified to connect to a modern modem, and this one prints out tweets.

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