Vim On A Typewriter Will Endear You To Grizzled Unix Experts

There have been many mechanical keyboard solutions in the past few years, most notably an IBM Selectric with serial out that let you klack away like Ada Lovelace directly into a printed email. However, the real Holy Grail has been the ability to transmit mechanical key presses directly to a computer using a few bits of electronics.

Well, it’s been done and it’s glorious.

An engineer named Russell Smith has used something called a Softpot that outputs a voltage depending on where you touch the long electrical surface. By placing this piece at the typewriter’s crossbar – the bar that holds down most of the keys – he was able to sense incoming voltages and translate them into key presses. Unfortunately a few of the keys didn’t pass under the crossbar so he had to find different solutions for those. The whole story is a bit old but it’s fascinating.

He wrote:

I installed the SoftPot (a ThinPot TSP-L-0200-103-1%-RH) using its adhesive backing onto the upper side of the crossbar. The purpose of the crossbar is to advance the carriage by one space after the type hammer leaves its imprint on the page. To accomplish this, the lever arm for each key applies force to the top of the crossbar when the key is pressed. Since the key levers are arranged along the length of the crossbar, the position of a hit on the crossbar can be used to determine which key was pressed.

He then connected the whole thing to a Raspberry Pi and, with a bit of code, sent the keypress data to a terminal session and, from there, on to the best text editor in the world, Vim. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Does the world want this project? Probably not. Does it need this project? Absolutely. It is a testament to humankind’s resilience that, along with our ability to survive in harsh conditions, we are able to port Vim to a typewriter. Excelsior.