.:Ultimate Writer: an Open Digital Typewriter:.
October 19, 2018 9:03 AM   Subscribe

TL;DR: A digital typewriter based on a Raspberry Pi and an E-Ink screen. The code/build instructions are available on GitHub. 2600 words from ninjatrappeur describing the build, along with photographs and opportunities to contribute.
posted by cgc373 (32 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
That thing looks terrible, but also awesome. The "0.3 Hz refresh rate" must be agonizing to use, and then, suddenly, wonderfully relaxing.

What really grabs my attention, though, is the builder's claim that there are cheap e-ink screens available, and that clones are all over online....but then (s)he fails to offer a link. DUDE, I have been looking for a cheap e-ink screen & controller for my Pi for a long time! Don't string me along like that!

Nice build doc, though, from the software side, especially all the background on driving the screen.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:06 AM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm getting some ugly flashbacks to department store electronics departments before about 1993 or so. Although I guess those word processors had screens that didn't take three seconds to refresh. Just saying.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:17 AM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I love it. I feel like there's a lot of room for growth and expansion of the idea while still retaining its focus.
posted by koucha at 9:37 AM on October 19, 2018


My impression is that the refresh rate is awful because refreshing an e-Ink display requires doing a thing to each individual pixel.

For the specific use case here, could one perhaps improve it by refreshing only the handful of pixels involved in the character just typed (or deleted)?

Vertical scrolling would require a whole-screen refresh, but one could minimize that by scrolling multiple lines at a time. (Hit enter or wrap around on the last line, and the whole screen scrolls up five lines.)
posted by sourcequench at 9:55 AM on October 19, 2018


why would you use E-ink for a dynamic application like typing? did they have a display laying around and thought "what the hell"?
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:21 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I love this, it's like the Freewrite Traveller without the pretentiousness, and the pricetag and he reliance on the Cloud.

::Firecely clings to my Alphasmart Neo::
posted by Faintdreams at 10:33 AM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


The TRS-80 Model 100 has a much faster (albeit smaller) display and gets about 20 hours of battery life from 4 AA batteries. It's also built like a tank, and you can get files on and off of it using a serial cable. Hell, you can surf the web at a blazing 1200 baud.
posted by jedicus at 10:36 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


jedicus, yeah but the editing screen is like 10 lines from what i remember of my old one
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:42 AM on October 19, 2018


Dr Twist, I think the E-ink display is so you can use it outside in bright sunlight.
posted by JonJacky at 10:43 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also I have been waiting for eink screens to be 'cheap' for forever. At least in Europe they are relatively expensive as soon as you go above anything more than 3 inches by 2 inches.

I have a raspberry pi 3 and want to make a text clock, but unless I want to buy in bulk (I do not), price per item is more than I can bear.
posted by Faintdreams at 10:44 AM on October 19, 2018


Needs a better keyboard.
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:55 AM on October 19, 2018


2018: terrible, but also awesome
posted by Fizz at 10:58 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I love my ancient Tandy WP-2 for writing. Runs forever on a set of batteries, and has a fantastic keyboard. A modern version of that would be perfect.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:08 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


US $32.99-33.99 / Pieces | 10000 Piece/Pieces (Min. Order)

Is there a more reasonable source than Alibaba? ;-) Something like a hacked AlphaSmart with some kind of eink display that did not need to be refreshed constantly might be an actually useful project. The AlphaSmarts ran for months on a couple C batteries but had a pretty wretched two line display.

I've thought an ideal use for eink displays would be nautical charts, color is not really required and most boats move slow enough that a display should not need rapid update. Clear viewing in bright sunlight and long battery life are both important. Needs a bigger screen than generally available.
posted by sammyo at 11:25 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


As I've said a million times before, y'all need to check out the AlphaSmart family.
I've owned a 3000 and a Neo2, and they are beautiful AND functional and don't require woodworking skills, as such.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:29 AM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's sort of a glancing mention in the article, but these displays are available from Waveshare (who are likely acting as a distributor for Good Display).
posted by wordless reply at 11:49 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's stylish and looks cool enough, but if your primary concern is saving money, another option is to buy a $30 bluetooth keyboard with integrated cradle for your phone, then put your phone in "maximum power saving mode" or the equivalent with only a memo app to type into. No notifications or distractions, tons of battery life, and no need to source cheap e-ink components or build a wood case (I'm easily distracted and can't write! Let me solve that by starting a new DIY project)
posted by naju at 12:40 PM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think the reasons for not going Alphasmart or even a cheap Olivetti typewriter are described in the article: open hardware, open os, ability to use a favored terminal text editor. While I'm a fan of Raspberry Pi projects in general, it highlights that open-source doesn't always play well with niche hardware components.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:40 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


He mentions that Waveshare seems to cripple the spec sheets. And I believe he did mention that Waveshare acts as distributor for Good Display. Advised going to the Good Display site for spec sheets instead.
posted by aleph at 12:44 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Another cool (but harder to find) machine is the QuickPad Pro. Decent sized screen, usb connection, CF card slot for storage, and it runs on dos. I've played Zork and other text games on it for fun. The keyboard isn't quite as nice as the Tandy WP-2 and it has to boot up, unlike the instant-on of the Tandy, but not having to fart around with RS-232 cables to transfer data via terminal is nice.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2018


Anyways, back to the original article, that is a really cool build. I found this article somewhere else yesterday, which led me down a rabbit-hole of looking into e-ink display for Raspberry Pis. I love the idea of e-ink, but it doesn't look like there is anything ready for a home-built word processor yet. I wonder if something similar could be made with a black-on-grey LCD like on the old word processors instead.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:58 PM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


It also makes me miss and get nostalgic for my Gateway 2000 handbook, running WordStar.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2018


Black-on-grey LCD is probably better for word processing. E-ink is slow; I'm not sure how well it'd deal with typing at 80+ WPM. I've thought about making a custom typewriter, and then realized that I have the self-discipline to turn off wifi on a laptop, and I can't make a device that's more streamlined than that.

On the one hand: Just typing; yay! On the other... what, I have to get out another device to find out what year that war ended, so I can mention it in passing in a fanfic?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:59 PM on October 19, 2018


This just makes me long for my old Tandy WP-2, although I think the Alphasmart 3000 would be a better option if I were to buy one today -- essentially the same thing but a little more convenient for getting the text off the device.
posted by asnider at 2:57 PM on October 19, 2018


A lovely concept and a great build doc too. Thanks for posting.

I'm sure I saw something similar recently, where an e-reader was hacked together with a USB-OTG cable + keyboard. Doesn't come with quite as many bragging rights though.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 5:42 PM on October 19, 2018


This display seems to be the one they're using.

With documentation on waveshare's wiki:

https://www.waveshare.com/wiki/4.3inch_e-Paper_UART_Module



1 Introduction
1.1 Video
2 Important notices
3 How to use
3.1 Power supply
3.2 How to generate bitmap images
3.3 How to work with PC
3.4 For Arduino
3.5 For NUCLEO
3.6 Open103Z
4 Serial communication protocol
4.1 Basic rules
4.1.1 Serial port
4.1.2 Command frame format
4.1.3 Transmission sequence
4.1.4 Command parameters
4.1.5 Color definition
4.2 Command set
4.2.1 Command look-up table
4.2.2 Command explanations
5 Resources
6 Support

posted by sebastienbailard at 6:27 PM on October 19, 2018


I love my ancient Tandy WP-2
I have one too! I still use it from time to time; the keyboard feels good, and it lasts forever on a set of batteries. When all I want to do is bang out some text, I prefer it over my MacBook.
posted by xedrik at 7:54 PM on October 19, 2018


Very cool stuff. I've had a long-running obsession with lightweight 'writing only' devices. I'm another Alphasmart user, with both a Neo and a Dana. The Dana's larger screen is great, but the contrast kind of sucks and it has a much shorter battery life than the Neo (although this is relative, it's still 20+ hours for me on three AA batteries, which is pretty amazing).

I'm not sure why there hasn't been an attempt to use a clamshell form factor, massive battery, greyscale LCD or eInk screen and a nice clunky keyboard to create a laptop-style infinite writing machine that could only be used for writing. Build that and price it under $150-200 and half the internet would bite your arm off trying to give you money.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:06 AM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm really curious because I'm in a maker mood and I'm mildly frustrated with chicklet keyboards. But alas, I don't have the skill for that elaborate a case.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:48 PM on October 20, 2018


I'm not sure why there hasn't been an attempt to use a clamshell form factor, massive battery, greyscale LCD or eInk screen and a nice clunky keyboard to create a laptop-style infinite writing machine that could only be used for writing. Build that and price it under $150-200 and half the internet would bite your arm off trying to give you money.

And I would be one of them, that's for dang sure.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 2:25 PM on October 20, 2018


If you're good with vim, a slow refresh rate isn't so much a problem. If you see something on the screen that needs to be fixed, a skilled vim user knows the brief command sequence to type in order to move the cursor to where it needs to be, do the entire fix, and go back to where you were without even needing to look at the screen.
posted by zixyer at 3:31 PM on October 21, 2018


Happy Dave: I'm not sure why there hasn't been an attempt to use a clamshell form factor, massive battery, greyscale LCD or eInk screen and a nice clunky keyboard to create a laptop-style infinite writing machine...

Sorry, the Apple eMate was already tried and abandoned.

God damn how I wanted one of those.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:39 AM on October 22, 2018


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