Hacker Turns Thermal Clacker Into USB Keyboard

Back before there were laptops and subsequently, netbooks, there were these adorable thermal typewriter/word processors that are lovingly referred to by their fans as baby wedges or wedgies. These fascinating little machines can put words on paper two different ways: you can either use a prohibitively expensive little ribbon cartridge and regular copy paper, or you can go the easy route and get yourself a 96′ roll of thermal fax paper and type until you feel like tearing off the page.

[David] was lucky enough to pick up a Canon S-70 in working condition for next to nothing, thinking it would make an awesome USB keyboard, and we agree. The PSoC 5 that now controls it may be overkill, but it’s pretty affordable, and it was right there on the desk just waiting for a purpose. And bonus — it has enough I/O for all of those loud and lovely keyswitches.

One thing that keeps these baby wedges within the typewriter camp is the Shift Lock function, which can only be disengaged by pressing Shift and had its own discrete logic circuitry on the board before he was forced to remove it.

That little screen is pure word processor and was used to show the typing buffer — all the characters you have a chance to correct before the print head commits them to paper. In a win for word processors everywhere, the screen was repurposed to show the current word count.

He was kind enough to post his firmware as well as real-time footage of the build. Watch him demo it in the wild after the break, and then stick around for part one of the build saga.

Portable word processors were still being made ten years ago, though they were mostly aimed at the primary school market as keyboarding trainers. Our own [Tom Nardi] recently did a teardown of a model called The Writer that relies on IR to send files.

Continue reading “Hacker Turns Thermal Clacker Into USB Keyboard”

Hackaday Podcast 066: The Audio Overdub Episode; Tape Loop Scratcher, Typewriter Simulator, And Relay Adder

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys stomp through a forest full of highly evolved hardware hacks. This week seems particularly plump with audio-related projects, like the thwack-tackular soldenoid typewriter simulator. But it’s the tape-loop scratcher that steals our hearts; an instrument that’s kind of two-turntables-and-a-microphone meets melloman. We hear the clicks of 10-bit numbers falling into place in a delightful adder, and follow it up with the beeps and sweeps of a smartphone-based metal detector.

Direct download (~60 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 066: The Audio Overdub Episode; Tape Loop Scratcher, Typewriter Simulator, And Relay Adder”

Drumming A Beat On A Hundred-Year-Old Typewriter

We have seen a fair share of unusual items being turned into musical instruments. Luckily, with a little bit of hacking it is possible to turn almost anything into a MIDI controller. [William Sun Petrus] just converted a 1920s typewriter into a drum machine and delivers a hell of a live performance on it.

The build is rather simple, all [William Sun Petrus] needed was an Arduino Mega and lots of wires to convert a hundred-year-old Remington typewriter into a MIDI controller. Whenever a key is pressed the hammer hits a metal plate at the center of the typewriter and closes the contact between one of the Arduino’s IO pins and the 5 V rail like a regular push button. The Arduino code is based on the MIDI library sending commands to a PC which is running Hairless MIDI and Ableton. As sort of a gimmick, [William Sun Petrus] included an LCD screen which shows a line from Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss every time a key is pressed.

Interestingly, the latency due to the hammer’s travel time does not disturb [William Sun Petrus’] live play. To calm the skeptics in the comments he also released an unedited version of the video to prove that the performance is real and an instructional video on how to play his beat note by note.

Other unusual MIDI controllers include a bandoneon accordion or this English concertina.

Video after the break.

Continue reading “Drumming A Beat On A Hundred-Year-Old Typewriter”

The Clickiest Keyboard Ever

No matter how clicky your keyboard is, nothing compares to the sensory experience of using a typewriter. The sounds that a typewriter makes, from the deep clunk of hitting the spacebar to the staccato of keys striking paper to the ratchety kerchunk of returning the carriage, are a delight compared to the sterile, soulless clicks of even the noisiest computer keyboard. Oh, and the bell — who doesn’t love the bell?

Unwilling to miss out on the feel of real typing, [Jatin Patel] whipped up this solenoid-powered typewriter simulator. The first version had the core functionality, with a line of six solenoids mounted to a strip of wood. The coils are connected to an Arduino through a relay board; a Python program running on his PC reads every keypress and tells the Arduino which solenoid to fire. Each one sounds different somehow, perhaps due to its position on the board, or maybe due to differences in mounting methods. Whatever the cause, the effect is a realistic variability in the sounds, just like a real typewriter.

Version two, shown in the video below, ups the simulation with a motor that moves the solenoid rack one step with each keypress, to simulate the moving carriage of a typewriter. The last solenoid rings a bell when it’s time to return the carriage, which is done with a combination wrench as a handle. Weird hex, but OK.

Can’t get enough typewriter action? We understand; check out this typewriter-cum-USB keyboard, the tweeting typewriter, or this manual typewriter that pulls some strings.

Continue reading “The Clickiest Keyboard Ever”

Time Enough At Last: Reviving An Heirloom Typewriter

You may find yourself living in interesting times. The world we knew two months ago is gone, and there is time enough at last, to finally go through those projects we’ve been putting off for one reason or another. Today, I wanted to explore and possibly repair an old unidentified typewriter that belonged to my late aunt for many decades.

A small disclaimer though, I am not an avid typewriter collector or connoisseur. I enjoy looking at them and using them, but by no stretch of the imagination I want to claim to be an expert in their history or inner workings — I’m a hacker after all. What follows is a layman’s adventure into her first typewriter repair, an exciting tale that explores typewriter anatomy and troubleshooting. Let’s dig in.

Continue reading “Time Enough At Last: Reviving An Heirloom Typewriter”

Perhaps August Dvorak Is More Your Type

One of the strangest things about human nature is our tendency toward inertia. We take so much uncontrollable change in stride, but when our man-made constructs stop making sense, we’re suddenly stuck in our ways — for instance, the way we measure things in the US, or define daytime throughout the year. Inertia seems to be the only explanation for continuing to do things the old way, even when new and scientifically superior ways come along. But this isn’t about the metric system — it’s about something much more personal. If you use a keyboard with any degree of regularity, this affects you physically.

Many, many people are content to live their entire lives typing on QWERTY keyboards. They never give a thought to the unfortunate layout choices of common letters, nor do they pick up even a whisper of the heated debates about the effectiveness of QWERTY vs. other layouts. We would bet that most of our readers have at least heard of the Dvorak layout, and assume that a decent percentage of you have converted to it.

Hardly anyone in the history of typewriting has cared so much about subverting QWERTY as August Dvorak. Once he began to study the the QWERTY layout and all its associated problems, he devoted the rest of his life to the plight of the typist. Although the Dvorak keyboard layout never gained widespread adoption, plenty of people swear by it, and it continues to inspire more finger-friendly layouts to this day.

Continue reading “Perhaps August Dvorak Is More Your Type”

Can You Help 3D Print A Selectric Ball?

The IBM Selectric changed typewriters as we knew them. Their distinctive ball element replaced the clunky row of typebars and made most people faster typists. When [Steve Malikoff] thought about 3D printing a type ball — colloquially known as a golf ball — it seemed like a great idea.

The problem? It just doesn’t work very well. According to [Steve], it is likely because of the low resolution of the printer. However, it isn’t clear the latitudes of the characters are correct. and there are a few other issues. It is possible that a resin printer would do better and there’s a call for someone out there to try it and report back. We are guessing a finer nozzle and very low layer height might help on an FDM printer.

Judging from the images, it looks like some of the balls do pretty well, but don’t get a full strike at the tilt angle. So it could be something else. However, it does sound like cleaning up the print so it fits is a major problem.

The Selectric was notable for several reasons — you can see an ad for the machine in the video below. The type ball meant you couldn’t jam keys. Since you didn’t have to unjam keys and you had the ribbon in a cartridge, you would have to work really hard to get ink on your fingers, even if you used the cloth ribbon instead of the arguably better carbon film ribbon. The Selectric II could even use a special tape to lift the carbon ribbon off the paper for correcting mistakes. No white-out liquid or fussing with little strips of correction paper. The fact that the ball moves means you don’t have to clear space on the side of the machine for the platen to travel back and forth.

Can you help? If you have a Selectric I or II and a high-quality printer, this would be a fun project to try and report back your results to [Steve]. If you are familiar with the later issue typeballs, you might not have seen the wire clip that [Steve] uses to hold the ball in place. However, you can see them in the video ad below. More modern balls use a plastic lever that acts as a handle so even with cloth ribbons you have less chance of getting ink on your hands.

Although there were Selectrics meant to interface with a computer, you can refit any of them to do it with some work. The Selectric also has a role in one of the great techno spy stories of all time: The GUNMAN project.

Continue reading “Can You Help 3D Print A Selectric Ball?”