Teletypes at Local Schools' STEAM Events

by Jordan Spencer Cunningham on

While at the 2019 Thanksgiving Point Mini Maker Faire, I happened to meet up with Beth Drees, who helps run the DIY Festival in Salt Lake City. Apparently this is a maker-faire-esque event that’s been going on for twelve years now, and I only just heard about it.

She invited me to bring my machines around to a few schools’ STEAM events (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) in conjunction with her organization, Craft Lake City, the events being sponsored by Google Fiber, apparently. Well, whaddaya know, Haddi- Man?

I was able to attend three schools’ STEAM nights in mid-November. Two were located in Salt Lake City, and one was located in Provo. All made for a good time for both teletypist and teletypees.

Making things official

I was able to contract some signage out to Signs.com, which just so happens to be a local Salt Lake City business, and which also makes all manner of marketing materials for a good deal– and fast. I had some new business cards with the Dusty Inkspot Telegraph & Typewriter Co. information printed, and I had a pair of DIT&T automotive decals made for the trailer I got to haul these machines around. See the glory:

Now it was official.

If you missed the first public announcement of the DIT&T, you can see it near the end of the video here. Basically, I love working with these machines so much that I want more opportunities to do it. So I will be offering machine rentals (though I will never let them out of my sight for any reason)– the idea is people can have them hauled into events to add a unique flair. Imagine replacing a wedding guest book with one of these and instruct guests to text or email their well wishes. Or have them in a corner at a corporate retreat. I don’t really expect any requests for a time, and I don’t necessarily have time to do it anyway, but perhaps it can one day offset the investment I’ve made into this hobby, and the investments I will continue to make.

Anyway, cards were handed out like candy, though I haven’t had a single call. Perhaps I should actually invest some time into the website.

Come, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages

The feel of the events honestly wasn’t too different from the previous faires to which I had taken the machines. It was just more intimate with only around 10 “vendors” there (vendor seems like a strong word since most of us were doing it for the fun of things).

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were a high percentage of kids who did not own their own cellular devices and had to get their parents to text the machine. It seems a phone is shoved into a child’s hand at birth these days, so it was refreshing to see a goodly group who had escaped that terrible fate.

As usual, people tended to flock to the machines, though perhaps there was a higher percentage than usual who had little interest and passed them by (though even those people are always still curious– you can see it in the eyes). Perhaps the demographic that attends Maker Faires is not quite the same one that attends local STEAM events at elementary schools.

I will say that at one of the schools I had the first profanity ever sent via SMS to my machine. It wasn’t even done in a classy way. I have sometimes considered adding a filter to strip out any explicit output, but as people have usually been grown up enough to avoid such blasphemes, and as I expect people to be grown up enough to deal with them if they see them, it’s not at the top of my list. In fact, it may not even be on my list.

Realtime bug squashing

The first event I took the machines to presented its own unique challenges, though they were smoothed out within a matter of minutes:

  • The part of the school gym where I was designated to set up shop was a bit of a dead zone as far as cellular service. I found SMS messages were delayed by a matter of minutes because requests to the service were timing out. Eventually I was able to set my tethered phone in exactly the right spot on top of a network switch and angled upwards at 30 degrees so as to have a couple bars and little to no delay in receiving SMS.
    • It was reminiscent of contorting the old bunny ears in just the right way atop a stack of shucked VHS tapes to get a good enough signal to watch a fuzzy rendition of Whose Line is it Anyway. But the signal was out the window should someone walk into the room from the hallway, though it would improve to near perfection if that person stood exactly three feet away from the antenna at a four o’clock position on her tippy-toes on one foot whilst crossing eyes and reciting dark incantations.
  • When I kicked off the first picture print, I discovered each line was being doublespaced. I knew exactly what the issue was and where to fix it, however: mere days before I had updated my ttyBash software to work better with the programmatic configuration character control code implemented in Eric Volpe’s USB <–> TTY board I had manufactured. While I implemented this functionality in a quick, hacky way for something I needed at the time, I forgot to finish implementing it globally so all scripts could take advantage of it. This completely broke a function that was supposed to disable automatic line feeds after receiving a carriage return. The pix files I use for the art include both a carriage return and line feed, just like when they were originally transmitted across the airwaves decades ago. As such, without disabling it, I’ll get two pairs of CR/LF for each line, resulting in a blank line between each printed line, ruining the piece of art that’s supposed to print out. Furthermore, overstrike lines (which only include a carriage return but no line feed so as to print over an existing line to produce more detail or darker shades) would also be put onto their own line. Anyway, I was able to trace down the issue whilst visitors watched what I was doing on the monitor, murmuring about how “cool” it was to see the code behind the project, and I smote [the bug’s] ruin on the mountainside.
  • Something odd with the teletype to telegraph TCP connection was up. I believe it was due to a poor Ethernet cable causing the connection to get severed, but I don’t know if I ever got to the bottom of it. That solution is somewhat hacky itself, to be quite honest, and I need to revamp it to be more autonomous and stable anyway.

Until next time

I’ve offered to keep bringing the machines to other STEAM events and have even been inspired to offer this to friends who work in schools. If you’re a local (Utah) schoolmarm or schoolman and want to have me bring these in to rile up your students, drop me a line. It’s a free service for the community– I just need to squeeze it into an already bursting schedule.