IBM Selectric Typewriters Finally Get DIY Typeballs

IBM’s Selectric line of typewriters were quite popular in the 1960s, thanks in part to an innovation called the typeball which allowed for easy font changes on a single machine. Unfortunately, as if often the case when specialized components are involved, it’s an idea that hasn’t aged particularly well. The Selectric typewriters are now around 60 years old and since IBM isn’t making replacement parts, those restoring these machines have had to get somewhat creative like using a 3D printer to build new typeballs.

It sounds like it would be a simple, but much like the frustration caused with modern printers, interfacing automated computer systems with real-world objects like paper and ink is not often as straightforward as we would like. The main problem is getting sharp edges on the printed characters which is easy enough with metal but takes some more finesse with a printed plastic surface. For the print, each character is modelled in OpenSCAD and then an automated process generates the 3D support structure that connects the character to the typeball.

This process was easier for certain characters but got more complicated for characters with interior sections or which had a lot of sharp angles and corners. Testing the new part shows promise, although the plastic components will likely not last as long as their metal counterparts. Still, it’s better than nothing.

Regular Hackaday readers may recall that the ability to 3D print replacement Selectric typeballs has been on the community’s mind for years. When we last covered the concept in 2020 we reasoned that producing them on resin printers might be a viable option, and in the end, that does indeed seem to have been the missing element. In fact, this design is based on that same one we covered previously — it’s just taken this long for desktop resin 3D printing technology to mature enough.

Typewriter Mashup Becomes 120-Year-Old Teletype

Vintage typewriters can be beautiful and elegant devices. But there’s a limit to their value if, as with the 1903 Remington owned by [Daniel Ross], they are fire-damaged and have a seized mechanism. What did he do with what was essentially a piece of scrap metal? Produce an unholy mashup of the vintage machine and a 1988 Sharp daisy wheel typewriter to make a steampunk-style teletype, of course!

Stripping down both machines was evidently no easy task, and the result he’s achieved has the Sharp’s printer mechanism at 90 degrees to its original orientation sitting below the roller in the space once occupied by the Remington’s type bars. We’re sad to see that the keyboard on the older machine appears to be inoperable, but on the other hand each letter does light up as it’s typed.

Meanwhile at the electronics side the components from the Sharp have been transferred to a custom PCB, and the whole can be driven from a 300-baud serial line. As can be seen from the video below the break, the result is an unholy love-child of two typewriters that could scarcely be more different, but somehow it works to make an impressive whole.

If this project looks a little familiar to Hackaday readers, it’s because we’ve mentioned it in passing before. It’s hooked up to his COSMAC Elf retrocomputer, and we saw it in passing a couple of years ago at a much earlier stage of construction before the custom PCB and light-up keyboard.

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Giving An Old Typewriter A Mind Of Its Own With GPT-3

There was an all-too-brief period in history where typewriters went from clunky, purely mechanical beasts to streamlined, portable electromechanical devices. But when the 80s came around and the PC revolution started, the typewriting was on the wall for these machines, and by the 90s everyone had a PC, a printer, and Microsoft Word. And thus the little daisy-wheel typewriters began to populate thrift shops all over the world.

That’s fine with us, because it gave [Arvind Sanjeev] a chance to build “Ghostwriter”, an AI-powered automatic typewriter. The donor machine was a clapped-out Brother electronic typewriter, which needed a bit of TLC to bring it back to working condition. From there, [Arvind] worked out the keyboard matrix and programmed an Arduino to drive the typewriter, both read and write. A Raspberry Pi running the OpenAI Python API for GPT-3 talks to the Arduino over serial, which basically means you can enter a GPT writing prompt with the keyboard and have the machine spit out a dead-tree version of the results.

To mix things up a bit, [Arvind] added a pair of pots to control the creativity and length of the response, plus an OLED screen which seems only to provide some cute animations, which we don’t hate. We also don’t hate the new paint job the typewriter got, but the jury is still out on the “poetry” that it typed up. Eye of the beholder, we suppose.

Whatever you think of GPT’s capabilities, this is still a neat build and a nice reuse of otherwise dead-end electronics. Need a bit more help building natural language AI into your next project? Our own [Donald Papp] will get you up to speed on that.

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Is That A Typewriter In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Pleased To See Me?

Don’t have the right milling tool? Just make one!

[Attoparsec] wondered what if you could carry a typewriter in your pocket, then followed through with that and built one. (Video, embedded below.) Kind of. The plan was to use an existing set of striker bars, but not wanting to destroy a perfectly good typewriter, they realised that you can easily source just the bar set on eBay.

The first problem was that the striker bars are shaped to allow the typewriter mechanism to operate, but that would not make for a compact arrangement. After a spot of straightening in a big vice, and drilling in a custom jig, they were in a suitable state to be arranged inside the case. The casing is milled from a chunk of aluminium, complete with a nice recess to hold an ink-impregnated felt pad. To prevent this pad from drying out when stowed, and to keep the whole thing clear of pocket lint, a U-shaped metal cover was bent from some sheet. This slides into a set of slots that are milled near the edges, in a very satisfying manner. This last bit was causing them a little trouble, so a custom slotting tool was created especially for the job. And a good job was indeed done. The final results look as you might expect from a manual ‘typewriter’ quirky, a bit wonky, but fabulous all the same.

If you have an old typewriter that needs some attention, here’s a quick guide for giving it a once-over. Some of you of a certain age may remember electronic typewriters with some fondness. They died a rapid death, but if you’ve still got one lurking, you could convert it into a Linux terminal for some clackity nostalgic fun.

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Termi2 Is Siri Like It’s 1976

What are your plans for the long weekend? If you don’t have time or don’t want to dive into a new project, why not dust off something left unfinished, or do as Hackaday alum [Cameron Coward] did recently and upgrade an old project with a new brain.

In this case, the project in question is a terminal typewriter — a Texas Instruments Silent 700 Terminal, to be exact — into a sort of late ’70’s version of Siri. The terminal typewriter is a special beast that used an acoustic coupler to send and receive both beeps and boops from distant mainframes. Whereas the first iteration of Termi used a Raspberry Pi Zero W to run a script that queries Wolfram Alpha, [Cameron] decided that between the login requirement, the boot time, and the weird formatting required to get it to work, that there had to be a better way.

Turns out that the better way is to use an ESP32 and read the “serial port”, which is a proprietary port with two serial connections — one for the acoustic coupler, and one for regular serial communication. Our favorite thing about this build, no matter the brain, is that there is a permanent record of all the questions and answers. Be sure to check out the video after the break.

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Playdate Handheld Turned Typewriter

The Playdate is an interesting gaming system. It’s a handheld, has a black and white screen, and superficially reminds us a little bit of the original Game Boy, right down to the button layout. But the fact that it has a second controller that pops out of the side, that this controller is a crank, and that the whole system was made by the same people that made Untitled Goose Game, makes us quite intrigued. Apparently it has made an impact on others, too, because this project turns the gaming system into a typewriter.

The Playdate doesn’t have native support for USB accessories unless it’s plugged into this custom 3D printed dock. Inside of the dock is a Teensy 4.1 which handles some translation between the keyboard and the console. Once the dock is taken care of the text editor needs to be side-loaded to the device as well. The word processor has the ability to move the cursor around, insert and delete text, and the project’s creator, [t0mg], plans to add more features in future versions like support for multiple files, changing the font, and a few other things as well.

For anyone interested in recreating this project, all of the printable files, the text editor, and the schematics are all available in the GitHub repo. It’s an impressive project for a less well-known console that we haven’t seen many other hacks for, unless you count this one-off Arduboy project which took some major inspiration from the Playdate’s crank controller.

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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