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Talking to the EP-44

Talking to the EP44 from a computer is dead easy. First, I wired up a null-modem cable (I ordered one, but it turned out to be a basic extension cable — wires were not crossed over. So I cut it in the middle and crossed them over myself).

Then I attached the cable to the EP-44 and to the serial port on the back of the computer (note, I used a real, hardware serial port for this, not a USB-to-serial converter).

Turned on the EP-44 and set it to terminal and to 1200 baud, 8 bit data.

On the computer, used stty to set /dev/ttyS0 to 1200 baud.

$ stty -F /dev/ttyS0 1200

$ stty -F /dev/ttyS0 -a

speed 1200 baud; rows 0; columns 0; line = 0; intr = ^C; quit = ^\; erase = ^?; kill = ^U; eof = ^D; eol = <undef>; eol2 = <undef>; swtch = <undef>; start = ^Q; stop = ^S; susp = ^Z; rprnt = ^R; werase = ^W; lnext = ^V; discard = ^O; min = 1; time = 0; -parenb -parodd -cmspar cs8 hupcl -cstopb cread clocal -crtscts -ignbrk -brkint -ignpar -parmrk -inpck -istrip -inlcr -igncr icrnl ixon -ixoff -iuclc -ixany -imaxbel -iutf8 opost -olcuc -ocrnl onlcr -onocr -onlret -ofill -ofdel nl0 cr0 tab0 bs0 vt0 ff0 isig icanon iexten echo echoe echok -echonl -noflsh -xcase -tostop -echoprt echoctl echoke -flusho -extproc

$ sudo adduser -a -G dialout username

Then typed:

$ cat /dev/ttyS0 &

$ cat > /dev/ttyS0

The first cat command takes anything from the serial port and puts it on the screen — in UNIX, everything is a file, including the serial device. The second command (not cast off), sends whatever I type on the computer to the thermal printer. So one could use this a bit like the talk and ytalk programs on UNIX.

That’s it, it works.

screenshot of a terminal session

Talking to the EP-44: Text on the screen of the laptop

scan of the same text on the EP44 printout

The same text on the EP44 printout

Now, the same connection can be used to send the contents of the printer’s memory (about a page or two of text) to the computer screen. You just press the Text button on the EP44 and cat the port to a file ($ cat /dev/ttyS0 > filename.txt).

Note that this is different from actually using the printer as a terminal, in that I am not sending commands to the computer and getting back the output, though clearly that can be done, seeing as the characters are moving between the two devices.

The text below was typed on the EP and uploaded to the computer using cat.


Blogpost

The Brother EP-44 can be used as an editor and word processor. It’s memory can hold about 3700 characters, which can be edited, modified and then either printed on the EP-44 or transferred via a null modem cable to a computer for printing, uploading or editing. The text you are reading now was written on the EP-44 without any of it being printed. Having said that, the 16-character screen of the EP-44 is not much good for editing. Indeed, if you get distracted and forget the start of the sentence, it can be all to easy to start one sentence and finish another.
I can check how many characters I have left by pressing CODE+r (‘REMAIN’). The manual, available online at http://munk.org/projects/Brother-EP44-User_manual.pdf gives details of the editing functions available. They are adequate, if not easy by modern standards. If you carried around enough equipment, it would be possible to send the text to an office over the phone lines via the RS232 port on the side, but it is hard to believe that anyone would bother. Even in the early 1980s, one of the little LCD notebook computers of the time, like the TRS-80 would be highly preferable (though three times the price). The main benefit of the EP lies in the attached printer, which means it is better used for input than output — input via the keyboard or via the serial line when using it as a printer. Speaking of input via the keyboard, I must say that the keyboard is surprisingly easy to use. It looks like a big calculator but types much better than that. Indeed, you can build up pretty high speed if you try. It works very well on the lap, and the keys are very reliable; you know when you’ve hit one, so you very rarely double hit or miss a character. The gaps between them help avoid hitting the wrong key, and mean that the overall dimensions are those of a full-sized device. Were I to make any change, I would put in a horizontal rather than vertical return key — why? — because I tend to hit it when I am looking for backspace.
One more comment. Although only showing 16 characters, the screen is surprisingly useful. It is big enough to show you the last word you typed, so you can quickly backspace over errors and fix them. If you are used to fixing errors on the spot rather than leaving them and going over the document later, then it is possible to make pretty clean copy without too much trouble.
As a final note, with this much text typed, I currently have 1280 characters left in the machine’s memory. Hence, we can see that the EP-44 (or EP44, depending on which documentation you read) can certainly provide enough space to write up a blog post of more than adequate length, especially when discussing a topic as boring and redundant as this one!
Now, at the end, let’s add in the non-ascii characters and see what can be downloaded over the serial line.
1234567890-=qwertyuiop asdfghjkl;’zxcvbnm,./
!@#$% &*()_+QWERTYUIOP ASDFGHJKL:”ZXCVBNM,.?
+ []{}<> $ \ ;’ #| &!@ *
OK, that’s done. Now we have 719 remaining.


Notes:

  • The text above between the horizontal lines makes up about 550 words, so we can estimate something like 650 words as the limit. Compare the list of characters that made it over the serial line with the type specimen:

scan of the typeface -- it's quite nice

  • The text above was sent by hitting CODE+s then text. Note that nothing seems to happen, but tail -f on the file works well and shows it to be transferred. To empty the memory and prevent the content getting printed at an inconvenient time, the simplest thing to do is turn the machine off, then turn it on with the C key (red cancel key) held down; this returns it to factory settings, a bit of a nuclear option. It is not supposed to print what is sent to the computer, but it does, so maybe there’s a bug in mine, I don’t know, but this will do.

Over and out

A free Sanplé

Ever heard of a Sanplé 3000EL? I am guessing EL means electric.

looks like a black plastic suitcase

The case

front and above view of the machine

The Sanplé

Advertised as ‘keys stuck’ for free. Clearly otherwise in very good nick. I’d almost say perfect.

Plug in, turn on, verify that the belt is in good nick but the fluted rod cannot turn. Notice the first problem — return band is all over the place…

shows the loose return string

Spot the loose return string

Slip the band back into place; that seems to have fixed some of the problems, but the return still doe not work. Time to dismantle… undo screws in middle of feet and under carriage ends. Also undid the screws that that hold the plastic cover on the carriage and removed that.

Now, tilt and remove the top.

getting the top off

Once the bottom is removed, it is easy to tilt the top and get if off past the carriage.

With the top off; note the conventional ribbons rather than some custom cassette (see Brother 3912) — good. Very plasticky — the spool mountings, for example, are almost entirely plastic. I’d guess this is a very late example of an electric basket typewriter.

Another photo

General top view, sans case

Space bar works, return does not, nor do any letter keys — shaft is not turning. Looks like the return key is not releasing and the lug is not letting go of the end of the fluted shaft.

Photo of the right side of the machine

The tip of the screwdriver shows the stop that prevents the fluted rod from turning.

Following a trail of rods and levers shows that a sliding strip at the back is connected to the carriage stop. When the carriage returns, it should hit the stop, which disengages the lug in the picture above and allows the fluted rod to rotate. This is currently not happening. If I give the carriage a push, I can force it to work.

the sliding rod that disengages the return mechanism and lets the fluted rod rotate; it was sticky

The screwdriver points to the sliding rod that needed a light oil to slide properly.

Give the strip a drop of sewing machine oil and clean the carriage movement to make it move more easily so it can whack into the stop harder and so release the return more cleanly.

That sort of works; it looks like the return and draw bands could use more tension; or just a clean and some use. Gave some key points a thorough clean and a light oil, wiping off as much oil as I could after application. Yes, that seems to help. Works pretty well now.

The typing feel is very light once it works. The keys respond well, the sound is not too loud, and the alignment is adequate though no more. The electric return is slow. Perhaps the springs have got old and soft, I don’t know. But otherwise it seems to perform well. There is a lug on the right for attaching a spring, but it’s not clear where it would go. There’s no exclamation mark — I guess we use a single quote ‘ and backspace and a stop . to get !

A sort of distorted 70 or 10 with a back-to-back A and R below.

The symbol on the typebars

Because the return spring seems too weak, when I hit return close to the start of a line, the carriage does not get up enough speed to actuate the return release, ad the thing jams up. The solution is to tug on the carriage end to trip the release. If you’re too slow, the drive band may slip off … this seems to be improving with use.

I can’t find out much about it. There are no identifying marks on the chassis anywhere (that I can find). Is it a Citizen? Nakajima? I’ve no idea, though the repeat spacer makes it look like a cheaper Brother (were Brothers ever this plasticky?). On the typebars, between the upper and lower case letters, is a thing that could be a 10 or a 70, but looks more like a tent peg followed by a high o, and below that what looks like an underlined AR with the letters merged, kind of like they’re back to back. Apart from the badge on the casing and the serial number on the back:

Made in Japan, Ser. No. 006375

that’s it. No more. For free, it’s very nice. Still a bit gummy, though.

Oh, and here’s the character set, though low quality — I’ve not yet replaced the ribbon and so the type was very faint and the scan was very noisy. I’ve used ImageJ to increase the contrast, and it’s still not very good. Nothing interesting in this font.

The character set of the Sanplé 3000EL

Free! Free at last!

Printing to the EP44 — doing it properly

I rigged up a dodgy way to print to the Brother EP44 using a simple three-wire cable. The problem with that is the printer cannot keep up with the serial port and the text starts to go funny.

Later, trying to play with it as a terminal device, I made a null modem cable. I tried using that as a print cable, and because it has the full complement of wires for flow control, if I set the printer spooler to use XON/XOFF (software) flow control, I can print using lp without using a script that sends one line at a time — the printer can use the extra wires to signal to the computer to wait.

screenshot showing the menu giving flow control options -- xon/xoff is software control

Using the CUPS interface at http://localhost:631 to set the options on the Brother EP-44 printer

The end result is that printing to the machine is very simple — if the full null modem cable is used. The 24-pin typeface is quite nice and very readable, and the only disadvantage really is the thin thermal paper (fax roll) that I have to use.

Printing from GUI applications does not work unless (like, say, nedit) they call lp to send the job. Using the CUPS browser interface to set up the printer works, but I have to use lp to send the job. Maybe I can figure it out, but it’s not really important.

The EP44 is a very portable printer. Works for ages off its batteries, or can even be run from the 5V output from a USB powerpack, if you don’t mind butchering a USB cable, as shown on YouTube.

It’s just a curiosity, but an impressive little one.

 

The future is 1984!

AlphaSmart 2000 — preventing accidental power on

Okay — modifying the AlphaSmart 2000 with a stick and some tape. I say ‘modifying’ because I don’t like the word hacking. It’s kind of pseudocool. I think the phrase ‘lifehack’ should be hacked to death.

But anyway. There is one massive design flaw of the 2000, at least when it is being used as a portable device chucked carelessly into a backpack. It’s old now and uses a PS/2 cable to type the text into a computer — which is fine, plenty of machines have PS/2 ports still, and PS/2-to-USB adapters are cheap. It’s in that nice zone where it’s useful but kind of worth little (at most $20 on ebay). So they are perfect for taking places you might hesitate to take a nice machine. Problem is, the on/off key is exposed (it’s just another keyboard key, at the top-left where Esc would usually be) and gets pushed and jabbed by other items in the bag and the thing turns on and off over and over again and you end up with a string of nonsense (or just one character over and over again), and since it is an older AlphaSmart, you have to delete the unwanted characters one by one using backspace (it calls it delete, but it is really backspace — the thing has got some kind of Mac’s disease; symptoms include a curly command key, ⌘, and a company address in Cupertino). That is clearly a pain. The newer ones (sorry, the ‘newer’ ones) — like the Neo — have a two-button-on option, whereby they won’t turn on unless you hold down Enter then on/off.

No such option on the 2000, so for the 2000 the simplest answer is to use a bit of tape and attach a Paddle Pop/Icy Pole/iced lolly/popsicle/icy pop (choose your local term, sorry if I’ve left it out) stick over most of the button, leaving just enough poking out to turn it on and off.  Version 1 used Sellotape (ie sticky tape). Version 2 stuck some blue insulation tape over the stick so you can’t tell it’s a stick. Now that’s technological advancement!

photo showing the stick taped over the top-left corner of the keyboard, where the power button is

Tape and wood works a treat

Works a treat. Now the old thing can go in my bag and only turn on when I want it to, not when it gets bumped. It’s so light and easy to carry, has space for 8 files and batteries last months — recommended for typing and hiking, typing and biking, that kind of thing.

Thank you and goodbye.

Is this a typecast?


And here’s the OCR’d text.

This a very careful sample of typing on my Remington 17. A couple of keys remain sticky, mainly ‘a’ and ‘1’, but others play up now and again too.

It means that it is not the fastest typer in my range, although I think you can see that if I don’t go too fast for it, it produces a nice line of type.

I think I might need to tighten up the main spring to help it pull the carriage a bit faster, since even when I type with the not-sticky keys, sometimes the letters can run together a bit, as if the thing does not have time to move the carriage.

Conversely, the type is clear, well-aligned and easy to read; the bell is clear but not too loud and all the functions seem to work — tabs, ribbon colour selection, all that sort of stuff.

Given what it was like when I got it, it is pretty good. I doubt it will ever be a great, smooth, easy machine to use, but on balance I have to be happy with the performance.

For reference, this is direct from the OCR program, completely unedited, using the script noted above, which is also pasted in below.

This a very careful sample of typing on my Remington 17.
A couple of keys remain sticky, mainly ‘a’ fi.and ‘1’, but others – play up now and again too.

It means that it is not the fastest typer in my range, although
I think you can see that if I don’t go too fast for it, it
prOduces a nice line of type.
I think I might need to tighten up the main spring to help it pull the carriage a bit faster, since ewen when I type with the not-sticky keys, sometimes the letters can run togethr
abit, as if the thing does not have time to move the carriage.
ConverSely, the type is clear, well-aligned and easy to read; the bell is clear but not too loud and all the functions seem A
to work — tabs, ribbon colourselection, all that sort of stuff. Giveanhat it was like when I got it, it is pretty good.
I doubt it will ever be a great, smooth, easy machine to use,
but on balance I have to be happy with the performance.
+”fig£2&'()g=QWERTYUIopsASDFGHJKL%@EXCVBNM?.%
1234567890§-qwertyuiop§asdfghjkl;:zxcvbnm,./

Not too bad, really.

Here is the script:

$ cat ~/bin/type_ocr.sh
# /bin/bash
#
# type_ocr.sh v. 1.0
#
# Script to scan, ocr, process and concatenate pages, e.g. from a
# typewriter.
#
# D.J.Goossens, 14 July 2016. darren.goossens@gmail.com
#
# Start at 1001 so we can be (pretty!) sure all filenames have 4 digit
# numbers
#
# Create the output file.
echo This is type_ocr.sh v. 1.0
echo
echo Make sure you give it the output filename as a command line argument.
echo Ctrl-D escapes from the scanning, Ctrl-C elsewhere.
echo The resulting images and text files are not deleted.
echo They are of the form outXXXX.pnm and outXXXX.pnm.txt and
echo may be quite big.
echo
echo If sane/xsane is running, exit it now.
echo
echo Hit Ctrl-C to exit now or Enter to continue.
read Response
echo 'Text file from type_ocr.sh v. 1.0' > $1
echo Processed `date` to $1 >> $1
echo 'Note: When it says "document 1001", treat it as document (page) 1'
scanimage --batch --batch-prompt --batch-start 1001 -p --mode=Gray --resolution=600
# Outputs are of the form out????.pnm. Loop over them
for f in out????.pnm;
do
tesseract $f $f
# The above produces out????.pnm.txt, which we can process,
# where first we replace double occurrences of newline with a placeholder
# string, then replace single occurrences with a space, then replace the
# placeholder with a return character (it is a trick of regular
# expressions that we search for \n (newline) but write \r (return) when
# we mess with the file).
vim -c "%s/\n\n/pLaCeHoLdErStRiNg/g" -c "wq" $f.txt
vim -c "%s/\n/ /g" -c "wq" $f.txt
vim -c "%s/pLaCeHoLdErStRiNg/\r/g" -c "wq" $f.txt
cat $f.txt >> $1
done
echo Try typing libreoffice $1 to see what you have got.
echo Setting paragraph formatting to indented and one and a
echo half space is a good start.
echo
echo Compressing pnm files to $1.tar.gz then deleting
echo tar c -vzf $1.tar.gz out????.pnm
tar c -vzf $1.tar.gz out????.pnm
rm out????.pnm

A bit verbose, eh? But works pretty well when the copy is reasonably clean.

Typecast out.

Time fixes the EP44

While I was monkeying around with my Brother EP44 — one funky old bit of hardware — I managed to send it some weird code that caused it to print really condensed characters and not respond to the return key… I was trying to use it as a serial printer, which worked on Windows via a USB to serial adapter and on Linux with a hardware serial port, but I could not get it to work on Linux via a USB adapter.

After I messed with it, whether I was typing or sending to it from the computer, the text looked like this:

Scan of bad text

Weird condensed text from my EP44 — not what I wanted to see…

And I thought maybe I’d bricked the thing. I tried turning it off and on again and suchlike, and there’s some kind of reset key combination too (turn it on with the red C key depressed), but that did not help. I took out the batteries for varying lengths of time and put them back in. No good.

As a last resort, I took the batteries out and left it in a cupboard for months, hoping that when it reinitialised it would be all right. Yes, I was hoping for some kind of magic to occur. And it did.

Here is the most recent typing test:

a scan of the printout -- looks great!

Character set from the EP44 — ‘a’ is used to demonstrate the range of accents available

So it’s alive! I should note that I scanned the type at 600 by 600 greyscale using xsane, then used ImageJ to threshold it. That makes it look very black. The original scan looks more like this:

The scan before thresholding

It would not look so bad if I used clean, flat paper! Also, the fax roll is so thin it should really be backed when scanning. The thresholded image gives a good idea of the glyph shapes and the wide range of choices. The accent characters can be put above any character you like — they print, but do not move the typehead, then the next character goes underneath.

K41693501

Serial number

The logo on the EP44

Yay.

 

Comparing typefaces

scan of type

 


Comments

The Super-Speed is lovely to type on, and the result is pretty good for a machine nearly 80 years old. Of all these machines, this is the one you’d put in a secluded office and use to write a great early 20th century  novel.

The 17 is pretty good given how rusty it was, but it’s a slow typer with some sticky keys.

The SG3 stands out as both very even and more modulated, and with very strongly lining figures. Almost as regular as the Selectric, which is so sharp and precise and dry. Apart from the Selectric, this is the one you’d use in the office at the firm.

The Dora is also nice and even, if dull; at present the capitals sit a little high, so some adjustment is needed, I suppose, though I doubt I’ll bother.

Hermes 10 (electric) is a little like the SG3 — some modulation, and more rounded serifs. Also, both happen to have quite dark ribbons, which makes a difference too.

The 3912C is pretty regular — but it is an electric, so the darkness ought to be uniform! Letters fade a little at the top, so either it’s not striking in the right place or the platen is just too hard. The 700T is very good for clarity and regularity, but the position of the caps isn’t matching the lower-case letters too well — could be my weight on the shift key, though, since the T and D seem okay, it’s just the B. Seems to be exactly the same selection of characters and typeface as the 3912C.

The AX-10 is a daisy wheel machine and this wheel has a slyly stylish font. The wheel says Prestige 1012. Locations of symbols ($, # etc) are more similar to a computer keyboard, as might be expected for a relatively new machine. A good machine for kids to type on — clean type and not too much key pressure needed.

The other Brother, the EP-44, is a very different beast. It is a thermal dot matrix printer with a keyboard. It cannot do carbons, but can work as a serial text-only printer. Being electronic, it has a second shift key that gives access to a wider range of characters — hence the third line. The typeface looks a bit like a monospace Times. Not bad though looks a bit pixelated on close inspection and descenders are basically false. Can also do underlines.

The cw-16 probably looks more pixelated then the EP, but gives a very wide range of characters and the options of bold, 10 or 12 pitch, double width (in each pitch) and underlined. This example is, like the EP-44 example, printed on thermal paper, and again the descenders are very shallow, almost false.

SM-8 is very niceely aligned, and only slightly understruck right at the tops of the ascenders. A very nice and quite portable machine.

The Clipper looks pretty good for a machine its age and with an older ribbon. Sharp, well-aligned and even, except for the fractions — and I think I hit those a bit hard… and maybe they need a clean, too.

 

Printing from HP 200LX palmtop

The HP 200LX has a serial port on the side. It’s little and rectangular, but pretty standard apart from that. Since I have acquired an appropriately vintage serial printer, I thought I’d give printing from the LX a try.

It turns out to be remarkably simple once the hardware is in place.

The printer has a female DB25 plug on it. I had an old serial line that had a male DB9 (DE9) on one end and a female DB25 on the other, but I also have an adapter that will make a male DB9 into a male DB25. Thus, it seemed to me I could put a rectangular plug on the end of the cable attached to the male DB9, then convert that to DB25 and plug it into the printer.

The first way I tried to get a plug that would fit the 200LX serial port was using a 5 x 2 section of IDE ribbon connector — but the pin spacing is too big by a factor ot 5/4 (4 pins fit in the space where 5 need to go). Purely by chance, I found a broken Conner CP2121 hard drive, and you can see that on the PCB there are some pins and on them is a sort of socket plug thingy (see, I know all the technical terms). Since the drive was cactus, I pulled this off, filed it down to be 5 x 2 and found that it fitted perfectly!

Photo of dismantled hard drive

The Conner HDD opened up — yellow arrow shows the pins in question

photo showing the white plastic plug

The case of the Conner HDD with the plug, after it was removed from the pins shown in the previous picture and filed down to size

Soldering the wires on was tricky, but since I was making a 3 wire null modem (see this page), I did not need to deal with all of them. I decided to solder them all because I might want to make up a full handshaking cable at some time, but I could not use them all because the DE9 was missing some wires. I think it was a commercial ‘dumb’ null modem cable or something. Checked for continuity and crosstalk frequently.

 

photo of the plug, held in pliersphoto of the plug, held in pliers

Soldering the wires onto the back of the plug

I then used a multimeter to check which wire went with what pin on the DB9 plug, and soldered the two halves together to get my LX null modem cable. The main challenge is really anchoring the wires such that you don’t break the connections when pulling out the plug (my main tactic — very subtle —  is to use lots of tape). The other trick is that a rectangular plug can be put in upside down. The LX socket has a rebate in the top edge to prevent this, so I glued and taped a waste bit of wire insulation to the appropriate side of the plug so it would only go in one way. The other trick is to remember that the pin numbering you see on the LX has to be mirrored (right to left become left to right) when numbering the wires on the plug.

Here is a picture of the final cable — hardly a professional job, but I could confirm using a multimeter that the three wires I needed (2-3, 3-2 and 5-5) were unbroken, and that there was no crosstalk between wires. Ready to go!

photo, showing lots of tape

The final cable — hardly tidy

I set the printer to 300 baud (it is very old), 8 data bits, no parity.

I used the Setup menu on the LX to turn on the COM1 port (to save batteries, I keep this turned off whenever I am not actually using it) and to configure the printer. The old printer is plain text, so Epson FX-80 is the most suitable of the three printers built into the LX; chose 300 baud.

Saved all the changes and exited Setup.

Opened Memo, opened a memo and sent it to the printer. No worries! Almost … the printer is really a typewriter, and it prints slowly and has only 160 bytes (not KB, B) of a print buffer, so even at 300 baud the characters are soon coming too fast for it. It can only print small files, or bits of a file. But I can print from:

  • Lotus 123
  • Memo
  • Appointment
  • And probably other things if I could be  bothered.

What about printing from the command line?

Opened the DOS prompt and typed:

a:\> mode com1:300,n,1,8,b

Now, it is tempting to then use mode to redirect the printer (lpt1:) to the COM1 port, but Setup has already done this, so now I just need to go:

a:\> copy file.txt lpt1:

the serctl program that comes with the LX can turn the serial port on or off, wired or infrared, from the command line.

So there it is, the LX can print to the EP44. There was one other thing to try. The LX comes with a terminal program, and the EP44 can store 2 pages of text in its own memory, Can the EP44 text be dumped into the LX?

Yes.

If I run the terminal program, set the baud rate to match the typewriter, and then start capturing the session (but without echoing local commands to the file!) then I can hit ‘Text’ on the typewriter and the contents of its memory will appear on the screen of the LX and then in the capture file.

Thus, the battery-powered HP 200LX can be paired with the battery-powered (but much larger) EP-44 in some weird kind of 1990s mobile office situation.

Who cares?


Serial port pinout

[1 2 3 4 5 ]
[6 7 8 9 10]

1 – DcD
2 – Rx
3 – Tx
4 – DTR
5 – GND
6 – DSR
7 – RtS
8 – CtS
9 – RI
10 – Shield ground


Selectric II: The whale has landed

$5 at a recycling place, state unknown but grubby. Heavy. Wide. Frighteningly complicated.

Useful: http://www.textfiles.com/bitsavers/pdf/ibm/typewriter/selectric/Troubleshooting_The_IBM_Selectric_Typewriter.pdf

OCRed this manual by converting to ppm files and running Tesseract:

$ pdftoppm -r 300 Troubleshooting_The_IBM_Selectric_Typewriter.pdf OCR
$ for f in OCR_???.ppm ; do tesseract $f $f ; done
$ cat OCR_???.ppm.txt > OCR-manual.txt
$ rm OCR_???.ppm*

Serial number is 900163664. The 90 means the Wangaratta factory in Victoria, Australia. After than, dunno. It’s a very wide Selectric II, says model 82 on the bottom, has correcting tape, 10/12 pitch, so pretty standard configuration for the mid-70s.

Dirty. At first the print head would not move. The machine just needed a clean and a careful oil.

Works pretty well. Erasing tape used up, but typing film nearly unused. Backspace is not reliable, but I’m working on that. Not sure how to sort it out. Express backspace works, but regular backspace works when the mainspring is removed (ie when it does not have to fight against the mainspring) but when the mainspring is attached and supplies enough tension for reliable forward spacing, back spacing no longer works — there is no ‘sweet spot’ where the tension is strong enough to make it space but weak enough for the backspace pawl to work against it successfully…. still. The manual above has some useful drawings in it. If I can spare the time…

One can certainly see how sharp and even the type is. Like a laser printer. The font is pretty lifeless, but the crispness is undeniable. It’s easy to see how once the Selectric came along other machines seemed prehistoric (if a lot cheaper, and, I suspect, easier to maintain).

scan of type

Selectric Courier 12 type specimen

Assorted pictures follow.

Photo of green selectric 2

The unit with the lid up

 

Close up of the IBM logo

 

Photo of the print head

The film tape ribbon thingy — mostly unused; correction tape absent

 

Photo of removed mainspring

The main spring, removed and on the bench — not that it helped. Backspace worked with it out, but forward space did not…

 

Another picture

The mainspring still in the machine, bent capacitor bracket in front

 

General view of the thing

 

IBM saticker on the bottom of the unit; says Model 82, IBM Australia, Wangaratta

Sticker on the bottom — Model 82

IBM

The Brother EP44 as a serial terminal for DOS

This is so nerdy.

I made up a printer cable for my EP-44 – it is the ‘Common serial printer cable’ taken from this page. I don’t normally take images from the web, but since pages do sometimes vanish, this is the wiring diagram I followed:

DB-9 (actually DE-9) to DB-25 serial printer cable wiring diagram

And it works very well as a serial printer cable from Linux (using a hardware DE-9 port). In fact, it works very well from DOS. I installed FreeDOS on a partition on an old Compaq Armada E500; it has a hardware serial port (DE-9) so is very nice for monkeying around.

Plugged the EP-44 into the computer and turned both on. Hint: this won’t work if this step is omitted!

Photo

The EP-44 connected to the Armada by a home-made cable

Set the EP44 to 1200 baud, N parity, 8-bit data and used the DOS MODE command to set the port to the same.

C:\> mode com1:1200,n,8,1,b

And I could print by copying stuff to COM1. Can also try:

C:\> mode lpt1:=com1:

This assigns COM1 as the printer port. The problem is that the EP44 has a very small buffer (160 bytes, IIRC), so as once before, it is a good idea to send the file a line at a time, using a little script. Slowing the baud rate right down (the computer can go as low as 110) helps, but even 110 baud is still a lot faster than the typewriter can print.

Now, I recently found out that using a full null-modem cable (uses more than the 4 wires in the diagram above) as a printer cable works really well with Linux — it allows for XON/XOFF flow control and line-by-line printing is not needed. DOS is not able to make use of the same cable, for some reason (or at least I could not do it), but works well with the simpler cable. So the EP44 (with and without hyphen) acts as a battery-powered 24-pin (NLQ) thermal printer that can be transported around with your laptop. How very 1990s!

But it gets funkier. If you like that sort of thing.

DOS has a little-used command called ctty, ‘change tty’. It can be used to make DOS look somewhere other than the console (ie keyboard and screen) for input and output. I found that it works with the EP-44, though the baud rate has to be set right down or the EP44 keystrokes don’t get captured (most worked, but the Enter key was flaky at higher baud. Who knows?).

On the DOS PC typed:

C:\> mode com1:110,n,8,1,b
C:\> ctty com1

with the EP-44 set at 110 baud, 8-bit data, no parity.
This gave me this on the EP44 screen (and on the fax roll I was printing onto):

photo

DOS prompt on the EP-44 screen

I could then type commands on the EP44 and get the output on the printer (it also appeared, uselessly, on the 16-character screen), with the console (screen) on the computer looking frozen and the computer keyboard not taking input. Here is a scan of a brief DOS session, as it happened on the EP-44.

scan of printout

DOS session on paper

At the end, as you can see, I typed

C:\> ctty con

and control went back to the computer and its keyboard. As you can see, during the session I can get listings, create and view files, and move around the directory structure. I’m sure I could do lots more. Anything that uses graphics, or addresses the video RAM directly, or even addresses the screen out of order, won’t work. I read somewhere that a DOS Elvis version worked on a DOS serial terminal; how it would work with a paper roll, I don’t know. I guess you’d have to use EDLIN or something! When I tried to use FreeDOS’s edit to look at a file, the screen on the computer lit up. The EP-44 printed the console output that firing up the editor gives (see below), but the editor screen itself appeared on the computer screen and could be used on the computer via the computer keyboard. When I exited edit (using the computer keyboard), control passed back to the EP44.

It would be possible to use a normal DOS session to put the commands that initiate the serial session into autoexec.bat, such that the machine would boot into that state. Then you’d have headless DOS. Kind of.

scan of output

Running edit

I found that many but not all of the special characters (accents, pound sign, that sort of thing) that the EP44 could generate could be written to a file and would then show up when viewing the file on the computer.

scan of printout

Non-keyboard characters that worked

It depends on where they sit in the ASCII table, I guess.

You can backspace over a mistyped command or file name (like the word ‘symbol’ above), and fix it before sending it to the computer, but of course the typewriter has already printed your mistake, giving overwritten results.

The typewriter lets you choose between CR and CR+LF for line endings, so if you get too many empty lines, try adjusting that setting. DOS uses CR+LF, so if the typewriter is just expecting CR it will not eat the LF and you get double-spaced output.

photo

The scanned output as it came out of the typewriter

Of course, this is just a toy. I tried playing with agetty under Linux, but I could not get the same results, not with the simple cable nor the full null-modem cable. Probably some serial port settings are not right, but I ran out of enthusiasm when trying to sort it out.

Anyway, useless but nifty.