Retro video terminal experience at the Slovenian Computer History Museum

I’m Marko, a volunteer at the non-profit Slovenian Computer History Museum. For some time my passions have been retrocomputing and retrogaming, especially to try out all the interesting hardware from the 80s when I was born.

After I made a successful unicorn exit from a mobile apps company I co-founded I found the perfect match for my next calling in our Museum Society, which has been collecting exhibits since 2004 while part of the Ljubljana’s (now defunct) hackerspace Cyberpipe – they were looking for a permanent space to call home and I wanted to become involved in preserving, exploring and presenting our computing past. I bought 700 m2 of real estate to provide to the museum rent-free and after an intensive planning and renovation period we were hoping to open to the public last year but of course this was prevented by the pandemic.

Thanks to generous donations over the years we have an extensive collection of computers, peripherals, game consoles, video games, books and magazines from all periods of computer history. Our goal is to present as many of the exhibits in working condition as possible so everyone can experience the retro fun. So instead of working on our (now postponed) opening exhibition, I spent the time in quarantine building an interactive exhibit centered around old video terminals from our extensive collection.

The Hardware

At the heart of the exhibit are two video terminals:

  • A DEC VT320 with amber CRT
  • A Paka 3000 with green CRT, a Yugoslavian VT100-compatible made by the Slovenian companies Gorenje and Iskra Delta
The interactive exhibit with 2 video terminals, a line printer and the original Game Boy

These are connected using USB PL2303 RS232 adapters to a Raspberry Pi – it was easy to set them up as terminal clients for the Raspberry Pi OS using David Muckle’s guide as Linux supports everything out of the box.

There are 3 peripherals which can be interacted with:

  • An original Nintendo Game Boy DMG-01 with Game Boy Camera – using Brian Khuu’s Arduino Nano interface the photos can be easily grabbed and e-mailed. To avoid destroying a real Link Cable I designed and 3D printed my own plug. The Game Boy is powered directly from RPi using a USB-to-barrel jack cable from eBay.
  • A generic USB UVC WebCam to take photos with which are then converted into ASCII art for display on the terminals and:
  • A fully working vintage Fujitsu M3043D line printer (which uses the band printer design) to make ASCII art printouts on continuous form paper. It was only a matter of finding the right USB LPT adapter with bi-directional protocol support to make it work with the Raspberry Pi.
Sample line printer output and Game Boy Camera photo e-mail message

The Software

The video terminals are connected to a CLI program I wrote in Node.js. At the heart of it is anseki’s readline-sync module which has a built-in command prompt option running in a loop where one can specify their own commands, their arguments and then process them and output the result – a natural choice for the video terminal UI.

The command prompt available on our real video terminals as well as online

The main functionality is access to our museum inventory system – visitors can browse through it, get detailed information about a specific exhibit and even see what exhibits were part of which exhibition. The same functionality is reproduced at https://zbirka.muzej.si/, where a CRT terminal experience is provided using a fork of Anders Evenrud’s retro-looking shell implemented in CSS and JavaScript.

In addition, one can use the “gameboy” and “photo” commands to interact with the peripherals in exchange for a small donation to support our non-profit work and help pay the operating costs.

There was also the task of getting the full Slovenian alphabet working on keyboard input and display output – while the Paka 3000 has a custom ROM with a YU charset, on VT320 I had to research DEC’s Dynamically Redefined Character Set (DRCS) standard, draw the accented characters myself and convert them into terminal commands to upload them when the terminal is used.

Custom bitmap for the YU charset and the DRCS escape sequence in Node.js

I have published all my Node.js code, Raspberry Pi scripts and findings in my GitHub project.

Conclusion

I had lots of fun and learned a lot doing this project – I have never before worked on the classic video terminals or used a line printer. I see value in exposing more people to the humble command line interface, introducing them to the lost art of ASCII art and giving them a chance to experience the Game Boy Camera which was rare in Slovenia.

We’re looking forward to welcoming our first visitors from here and abroad in (hopefully) late 2021. Meanwhile, follow our daily social media posts about our exhibits on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!


Muzej odpira svoja vrata za teden programiranja

#meetandcode #codeEU #sap4good

Virtualni sprehod po muzeju in spoznavne delavnice računalniškega šifriranja, igričarske grafike in osnovne elektronike

Te dni poteka teden programiranja, ko se po celi Evropi posvetimo računalniškemu izobraževanju in ozaveščanju. Računalniški muzej kot vsako leto sodeluje z edinstvenimi (in seveda malo retro) vsebinami pri nas:

  • v torek, 20.10. ob 18:00 – 19:30 virtualni sprehod po vrhunskih dosežkih Slovencev v svetu in hitrim uvodom v enkodiranje informacij (prvi koraki v šifriranje so primerni tudi za popolne začetnike ter take, ki bi sloviti svet enkripcije radi le bolje razumeli); prijava na info@racunalniski-muzej.si
  • v četrtek, 22.10. ob 18:00 – 19:30 virtualni sprehod po zgodovini računalniških iger, konzol in osnove računalniške grafike (prvi koraki v računalniško grafiko so primerni tudi za popolne začetnike); prijava na info@racunalniski-muzej.si
  • v soboto, 24.10. ob 14:00 – 15:30 začetna delavnica načrtovanja elektronskih vezij (prvi koraki za popolne začetnike); prijava na info@racunalniski-muzej.si

Delavnice so primerne za vse od 9. leta dalje. Namenjene so tistim, ki jih preganja radovednost in tistim, ki bi radi zavihali rokave, pa naj si bo to prvič ali pa ponovno po res dolgem času. Z drugimi besedami – tudi ata in mama sta lahko zraven, če ju daje nostalgija :).

Naši vrli predavatelji bodo skozi nekaj praktičnih interaktivni primerov nakazali osnove pojme in načine razmišljanja, ter podali vire za nadaljnjo samostojno raziskovanje. Pokazali vam bomo najbolj splošno dostopna orodja za specifično programersko ustvarjanje ter vas spodbudili, da jih preizkusite vsak na svojem zaslonu (POZOR – za marsikatero programersko delo pametni telefon ni najbolj primeren, tako da pocukaj soseda za rokav, da ti občasno posodi nekaj z dejansko tipkovnico)

Dogodki se bodo odvijali na spletnem konferenčnem sistemu Zoom, povezavo pošljemo prijavljenim na dan pred dogodkom. Prijave obvezne na spletnem naslovu info@racunalniski-muzej.si, mest pa je praktično neomejeno veliko – živel širokopasovni internet!

Vrhunci slovenskih korenin

torek, 20.10. ob 18:00 – 19:30

prijava na info@racunalniski-muzej.si

Slovenski strokovnjaki so večkrat v zadnjih 50 letih sooblikovali globalne trende in napredek. Nekateri so relativno poznani, kot recimo prvi elektronski žepni kalkulator HP-35, nekateri so pa varno shranjeni v naši zbirki in bodo tokrat prvič predstavljeni javnosti. Med njimi je tudi najstarejša slovenska digitalna knjiga, shranjena na luknjast trak, ki se ga bomo v delavniškem delu tudi naučili dekodirati.

Za delavnico priporočamo uporabo namiznega ali prenosnega računalnika (ne telefon ali tablica).

Virtualni sprehod po zbirki iger in igralnih pripomočkov

četrtek, 22.10. ob 18:00 – 19:30

prijava na info@racunalniski-muzej.si

Računalniški muzej hrani eno največjih zbirk računalniških konzol in iger, ki predstavlja vse mejnike zadnjih 50 let industrije. Od najbolj znaniih Nintendo in Sega konzol, do pionirskih Coleco in Odyssey, edinstvenega Vectrexa in slovenskega klona Ponga. V prvem tovrstnem virtualnem sprehodu po zbirki Računalniškega muzeja bomo za navdih nekatere tudi preizkusili, nato pa v delavniškem delu praktično spoznali osnovne gradnike enostavne igre.

Za delavnico priporočamo uporabo namiznega ali prenosnega računalnika (ne telefon ali tablica).

Naredi svoj procesor – uvod

soboto, 24.10. ob 14:00 – 15:30

prijava na info@racunalniski-muzej.si

V muzeju verjamemo da je treba dobro poznati osnove, zato smo pripravili delavnico, ki vas na zabaven način popelje skozi prvih nekaj vezij osnovnih gradnikov elektronike. Brez dolgočasnega žargona in utrujajoče matematike bomo v interaktivnem spletnem orodju sestavili nekaj zabavnega. Našli se bomo med žarnico s stikalom in flip-flop-om ter začutili začetke arhitekture procesorjev. Zainteresiranim bomo pokazali spletne vire za nadaljnje raziskovanje, prek katerih si lahko naredite tudi čisto svoj mikro procesor.

Za delavnico priporočamo uporabo namiznega ali prenosnega računalnika (ne telefon ali tablica).

Okrogla miza “Svilena dolina” ob zaključku razstave “Naši računalniki od Karavank do Kitajske”

V torek, 26. februarja, je v lokalu Pritličje potekala okrogla miza z gostoma Janezom Škrubejem in Jožetom Buhom, ki jo je povezoval Marko Štamcar.

Janez Škrubej je bil prvi vodja predstavništva DEC za Jugoslavijo in eden od ustanoviteljev Delte ter njen direktor. Po vključitvi v Iskro je bil generalni direktor podjetja Iskra Delta ves čas njenega delovanja. Je avtor knjige “Hladna vojna in bitka za informacijsko tehnologijo”.

Jože Buh je bil vodja servisa pri Delti ter vodja odprave Iskre Delte na Kitajsko. Lepo se mu zahvaljujemo tudi za fotografije, ki jih je prispeval za razstavo.

V uri in 40 minut smo z gosti in obiskovalci predebatirali vse z Iskro Delto povezane teme, od njenega nastanka (in konca), širitve v tujino, računalnika Triglav, pa do glavne teme, “Projekta Milijarda”, računalniške mreže za kitajsko policijo, kjer je Iskra Delta prispevala računalniško opremo, mrežno opremo, izobraževanje kitajskih strokovnjakov ter na Kitajsko za več mesecev poslala svoje najboljše strokovnjake.

Za tiste, ki ste okroglo mizo zamudili, toplo priporočamo nakup slovenske ali angleške izdaje knjige g. Škrubeja, kjer je podrobno opisana celotna zgodba.