Category Archives: old machines

Printing to a 1980-era daisywheel printer from OS X, part 2

The Hardware

Printers of this era used a 25-pin parallel interface and connected to computers with what was generally called a “Centronics” cable. Modern computers do not include these ports though they can sometimes be added with a PCI card or express card. As of this writing, Startech manufactures many varieties, but with drivers only for Windows and Linux. There are units from other companies too, but I have never found OS X drivers. For a Mac, we need to go another route.

parallel adapters

Many manufactures sell USB-to-parallel adapters that work pretty well. Of the ones I own, those with chipsets by Prolific seem to work the best, but they’re all pretty good. The adapter is a standard USB device and can be connected directly to the computer or at the far end of a hub. The adapters generally have DB-25 male connecters on the non-USB end and connect directly to the printer. Our job thereafter will be to send the correct ASCII codes to the adapter, which will then pass them on to the printer. There exist fancier adapters that allow the user to change the speed of the adapter and other aspects of its interface but these are more expensive and not necessary; the default settings implemented in the normal adapters are fine.

Printing to a 1980-era daisywheel printer from OS X, part 1

I’ve long been fond of daisywheel printers, and they can generally be picked up for the cost of shipping when somebody finds one rotting in the garage. They’re easy to use with computers of their own era. I generally test them with a Tandy WP-2, which is a dedicated word processor. Connect the WP-2 to the printer with a standard Centronics parallel cable, type a few lines and hit the ‘print’ command. Unfortunately, printing from Windows or Mac is a bit more complicated.

Modern Macs will print to almost any page printer via the CUPS system, but the operating system provides little support for printing to an old line printer. Basically, if the printer expects to get a picture of a page, it will work with a Mac just about instantly. If you want to send across a stream of letters, a bit more work is needed.

The following posts will explain how to get one of these old beasts (an NEC Spinwriter ELF 360 in this example) running under OSX.

Disassembling the Apple Studio Display 21″ CRT

Once upon a time, computers used cathode ray tube monitors (CRTs), and the best ones were made by Sony, and in 1999 Apple bought some Sony tubes for use in creating the wonderful monster that is the Apple Studio Display 21″ CRT.

It was beautiful and enormous.

The monitor is almost three feet deep.

The monitor is almost three feet deep.


And very, very heavy. The service manual contains the following warning:

Caution: Out of the box, the Studio Display (21″ CRT) weighs 77 pounds (35 kg). Use caution when lifting or moving the display. To move it, lift it by the hand grips on the bottom of the display. It is recommended that two people lift the monitor together.

After the bloom came off the CRT rose, I got two of these monitors for free by offering to “dispose” of them for designers who were moving up to LCD screens. Neither was working well, and they’ve been in my basement basically ever since. I plan someday to convert the shells into fishtanks or litterboxes or something. At one point, I thought I might build a computer into the case with a modern LCD monitor mounted into the front, but a 20″ square monitor is an odd commodity now that the world has moved on to panoramic aspect ratios.

Anyway, it was time to move the monitors and I decided to gut them first. The things are totally over-engineered, with dozens of screws hidden under mylar stickers. The “Take Apart” section of the service manual is 101 pages long. Not very big pages, but still.

So I found a shortcut . . .

CRTs can be extreme hazardous. Use a wooden-handled implement when discharging.

CRTs can be extreme hazardous. Use a wooden-handled implement when discharging.

Also wear protective eyewear and an airmask; the tube will explode.

Also wear protective eyewear and an airmask; the tube will explode.

Then remove the shell.

Then remove the shell.

And remove the guts.

And remove the guts.

Thought Pattern

I am among the millions of users of Evernote, and I have been struck by its many similarities to a software package from the early 1990s called Thought Pattern™. This was a note-taking package that made little impact on the market but which I found very useful at the time.

As with Evernote, a Thought Pattern user can enter notes with text and pictures, and assign keywords to each note. This makes it possible to search later by the terms in the card, or by themes that the cards have in common, even if the name of the theme appears nowhere in the text of the card itself. Unstructured data can be challenging to manage. With a large unstructured database used by many people, communal usage patterns can train the system about related content even in the absence of identical terms. However, for smaller datasets and user bases, explicit tagging of the sort used by Evernote and Thought Pattern is much better. Highly structured data can be handled in a traditional database management system, but a lot of information in the real world doesn’t conform to any simple rigid system of fields and records.

Thought Pattern also allowed the user to link content from other applications to cards, where it was represented by icons and would open if double-clicked. The program had one major feature that Evernote lacks — it was possible to attach an alarm to each card. Thought Pattern also had a better logo.

thought pattern logo

I rode a bicycle across most of the United States in 1993 wearing a Thought Pattern t-shirt.

Thought Pattern lacked of course the networked ubiquity that makes Evernote so useful. Nonetheless, it was a great program that I found useful. Credit to Stephen Zagerman of Bananafish Software for being ahead of his time.

in action

box back

Happy Birthday, Bob

Seven minutes remain in Bob Dylan’s 70th Birthday. I’m listening to Eliza Gilkyson’s new cover of “Jokerman,” and remembering that on the occasion of Bob’s fiftieth birthday I hosted a 24 hour Orgy™ of his music on WHRB-FM. I collected an array of bootlegs for the event, a project that was a lot more fun in the days before digital piracy. During the show, in the middle of the night, an enormous manic-depressive named Wombat stopped by the studio to join us. The station got appreciative letters for weeks, including some from people who drove their cars to a parking lot near our offices in Memorial Hall and sat, listening for hours. One man wrote about holding his young son in front of the radio in the hopes the boy would grow up to appreciate the music the way his father did. Funny the things you remember, decades later.

I found a copy of the Adobe Pagemaker 4 file for the poster we used to advertise the event. The screenshot below is from an emulator running Macintosh System 7 without Adobe Type Manager but I don’t think it looks too terrible.

Bob Dylan Poster