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‘80s Kodak printer lives again as ASCII art machine via Arduino Nano

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ASCII art machine

Many might look at an old inkjet printer and see nothing but a piece of obsolete tech junk, but not Emily Velasco. After finding an old Kodak Diconix 150 in a thrift store, she saw the vintage gadget as pure potential. An undisclosed period of tinkering later, she transformed the old inkjet printer into a dedicated ASCII art machine, delighting HackDay 2020 attendees.

Ghost of the printers past

Once the Diconix 150 underwent repairs, Velasco loaded ASCII images onto an Arduino Nano microcontroller board and embedded it within a 3D-printed plastic case. Arduino was linked with the miniature Kodak printer using a stripped-down Centronics cable. Velasco’s machine is ridiculously easy to use: whenever you press a big red button labeled PRINT, Arduino selects one of the ten pre-loaded ASCII images at random, sending commands to Diconix to reproduce it on a tractor feed paper. Interestingly, Velasco discovered the Diconix 150 can work seemingly without a traditional AC cable. It turns out the machine uses electricity through the Arduino Nano’s input protection diodes.

First produced in the mid-1980s, the Kodak Diconix 150 was an early example of a consumer-grade inkjet printer. Meaning it was anything but affordable, having cost approximately $1,000 when accounting for inflation. Decades later, Velasco bought it with pocket change – four bucks. Replacing its ink cartridge actually turned out to be more expensive.

This intriguing mix of art, craft, and obsolete technology is just the type of thing Velasco delights in. The tinkerer shared she immensely enjoys discovering and repurposing discarded objects to build all sorts of eccentric devices. Last November, the resurrector of the Diconix 150 was a guest speaker at the Hackaday SuperConference – world’s largest gathering of hardware hackers, builders, engineers, and enthusiasts. In her poignant talk, Velasco argued projects like the Diconix revival aren’t just incredibly fun but also an excellent way to challenge one’s own one’s ingenuity and creativity. Following that train of thought, she chose to share her Diconix 2020 code on GitHub in hopes that her creation will eventually prove useful to other hardcore tinkerers.

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