i heard you like plotter videos
January 27, 2014 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Oh, how did you know?

I wish that I could remember the name of my first plotter. It was large, from japan, and drew in ink and pencil. As I recall, the "manual" was translated word for word into english - very dada.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:01 AM on January 27, 2014

You forgot Penman. (You have 32 minutes left to buy one.)
posted by popcassady at 6:07 AM on January 27, 2014

…links borked. Penman
posted by popcassady at 6:13 AM on January 27, 2014

I remember our research dept. when I was an undergrad research asst. had A Plotter, and it was like getting a papal audience or time on the Hale Telescope to use the thing. Because '80s.
posted by Mister_A at 6:27 AM on January 27, 2014

Oh yes. Yes I do.
posted by Think_Long at 6:30 AM on January 27, 2014

Oh my, ebay has a bunch of plotters for virtually free. Make a hell of an art project!
posted by sammyo at 6:39 AM on January 27, 2014

Plotters were the shit.

The first time I ever saw one was on VIP Day at Polaroid. Family Day. My dad worked there as a draftsman and once a year we would go in and see all the new shit they were working on and see the film go through the machines and whatnot.

They showed us an early CAD terminal (this was maybe 1980 or so) and drew up a box with some circles. They asked my brother his name and then they wrote it inside the box. This was already pretty cool and blew my ten year old mind.

Then he said "watch this."

A machine started drawing it out in front of us. It had paper and a pen on a big arm and when it went to change colors it would go and grab a new pen. It was so fast! Magic. When it was finished he handed the paper to my brother and he hung it up in his room. We would look at that paper for months afterwards, remembering that magic machine that drew it. We attempted to explain to friends how it came to be but we knew they'd never fully understand. We were basically explaining R2-D2.

It's probably up there in the top ten moments when my mind was blown by technology. Up there with seeing the iPhone or seeing the video for Money for Nothing. In fact, it may have been the very first time technology blew my mind. I'd never even imagined something like that was possible.

Later, when my friends and I all had TRS-80s, one of my friends bought this mini color plotter that printed on five inch wide paper. He mostly used it to write "Dan is great!" over and over again but it was still kind of cool.
posted by bondcliff at 6:52 AM on January 27, 2014 [10 favorites]

Obviously photoshopped. You can tell by the vectors.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:20 AM on January 27, 2014

God, I loved watching plotters do their thing. The drawing process seemed so blatantly, obviously illogical and inefficient. And, yet, you knew, deep down, somehow the machine was probably, actually drawing as efficiently as possible.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:21 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

My dad is an architect and in the 80s I loved going to his office to see all their cool computers and above all the pen plotter doing its work. It took forever to draw stuff but it was mesmerizing to watch. When they got an inkjet plotter, they were pretty happy about it taking like 1/8th the time to plot a 36"x48" drawing, but I was disappointed.
posted by zsazsa at 7:50 AM on January 27, 2014

If you think about it, the stepper motor is an unsung hero of the modern technological age. It's a core ingredient of:
  • CNC milling machines and lathes
  • plasma and water jet cutters
  • a variety of types of printers -- line, dot matrix, ink jet, laser
  • plotters and vinyl cutters
  • flat bed scanners
  • a wide array of rapid prototyping technologies (3D printers)
  • floppy disks and Zip drives
  • early generation hard drives
  • optical drives -- CD, CD-ROM, DVD, BluRay, and the myriad writable and rewritable flavors of each
  • CT scanners and other types of medial imaging equipment
  • lithographic equipment used in integrated circuit manufacture
  • ...and probably a bunch more specialized use cases
And that's only the first order effects. Consider everything that's made possible by CNC machining, such as creating tooling for injecting molding, stamping, and casting, and suddenly you've covered a big swath of a lot of huge industries. Let us all toast to the dulcet tones of the humble stepper motor.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:51 AM on January 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

I used to do support for pen plotters like that in early-mid 90s before the deskjet type really started to take over.

By that point most had evolved to have spinning carousels of pens with different widths and colors - and of course that meant that the pen in position 1 had to comport with what your drawing had. So this was very set up intensive, but once it was set up, everything was good unless some goddamned fartknocking dillhole changed pens - change your goddamned drawing, you idiot! Then I would have to roll up there and sort out the mess and put the pens back where they belonged.

Anyway, it was really cool to watch them work.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:34 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

  Let us all toast to the dulcet tones of the humble stepper motor.

I'd raise a glass to that — but I'd never describe the SMB theme's tones as ‘dulcet’. It's a broken, clunky tune which … ah, nevermind.

My dad was an HP reseller. I got to see a plotter running, once. Sheer magic. I still remember a simple plotter for schools at a computer show (don't think it was a Penman; might've been from Linear Graphics) that used BIC pens — cheap, reliable genius.

I've probably really screwed up my chance of getting a plotter from ebay or craigslist now, though.
posted by scruss at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2014

These are infinitely more interesting to watch than the electrostic plotters I was using in the early 1990s. They made no noise. They simply smelled funny.
posted by petrilli at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2014

I was awed by that Space Shuttle Autocad file in the 80s when a friend showed me it on his new EGA card with 16 colors.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:17 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you heard I liked plotters, why didn't you include a video of a plotter plotting a plotter?

But seriously, I'm sure you looked. I know I did.
posted by smammy at 10:54 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have an old HP plotter I picked up a few years ago. Before I managed to find some actual plotter pens online, I hacked something up involving washers and some mini gel pens. I never could get it to do proper flow control with my computer, though. I should try that out again.
posted by ckape at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2014

LOL I remember back in 1974 when I discovered our university mainframe had a Calcomp 565 pen plotter. The sysops hated it because they had to babysit the machine. It was finicky to operate and if the pen ran out, they had to abort the job, switch to a new pen, and start it over, meanwhile the job queue went on hold.

So I went to the big rack of documentation to see if there was a test program so I could fire the thing up and see what it could do. I found the perfect job, an ANSI resolution test pattern. It was designed to run on our COM Computer Output Microfilm machine, which I liked to use, it was speedy but you ended up with a piece of developed and unfixed 35mm film which you had to print in the darkroom on photo paper with an enlarger.

So what the hell, let's fire up the Calcomp and see what kind of rez it can produce before the lines blur together, that's the whole point of this test pattern. The test pattern code was resident on the standard system disk pack, I could call it up with only about 5 punched cards, including my standard header cards. It was such a tiny job. I dropped it off at the I/O Desk, turnaround was usually 2 to 3 days for plotter output.

3 days later, I came to pick up my card deck and the output. There was a rolled up plot on the shelf with my cards. The sysop picked it up and looked at a note attached to it, said, "hmm.. wait here a minute," and walked to the back room carrying my plot. That room was known as the "Wizard Room," the senior computer staff's hardware lab.

Soon the Senior System Operator came out and looked scornfully at the 15 year old kid that was responsible for this plotter job. He said he wanted to show me the plot personally. He rolled it out on the table, and there were the big black bars, getting smaller and smaller, and also fainter. The pen was running out of ink. Then halfway through, the plotting stopped, and I could see a little line pulling away from the final plot, like a visual equivalent of a stylus scratching across record grooves. WTF?

I was informed that the ANSI test plot should never never ever be run on their pen plotter. I burned through a pen all by myself. The job is too intensive and detailed, the lines would have all blurred together and what's the point of that? The job ran for an hour before they noticed it, it would have run for several more hours, backing up the job queue, and probably used up more pens. Henceforth, I was permanently forbidden from running ANY job on their pen plotter, EVER. And just to add insult to injury, the Senior Sysop showed me the abend notice at the end of the line printer output that accompanied my plot. Normally an aborted plot would not be charged against your timeshare account. But they decided to charge me for the full runtime. The one plot job burned through my entire timeshare allocation for the rest of the semester. I would have no access to the IBM/360 until the start of the new semester, months away. Serves you right, kid.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:29 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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