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A steam punk VDU ?

This topic was created by John Smith 19 .

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Happy

A steam punk VDU ?

If you know Charles Stross's "Laundry" series you'll know that the narrators boss uses a thing called a Memex to store and query information held on micrfiche cards.

It's known that Charles Babbage planned to link a printer directly to his Analytical Engine to eliminate typos when producing navigation tables. On that basis I think a "steam punk" teletype would not be that difficult.

But a VDU? Something that displays (and edits) characters on a screen without electricity?

I'll accept any technology, mechanical, photographic, chemical, biological, pneumatic, etc.

To keep it simple(ish) it only needs to support 1 font in both upper and lower case. No graphics, no color but it should allow last line editing.

I think the keyboard should be fairly easy, it's the display that's tricky. Creating a reusable surface that's erasable and re-writable without semiconductor storage.

I'll be interested to see what comes up.

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Re: A steam punk VDU ?

You don't just need to edit the characters - you need to feed back the changes to the differential engine. It is for that reason that I am proposing Generic Objects Lytic Facades. These would be a series of small balls with characters and numbers exposed on flattened surfaces which could ingeniously rotate to expose a single object (i.e. letter or number).

By placing a set of similar objects in a row (hence generic) words and or numbers could be displayed. By manually rotating an ball an "edit" could occur and be read. This is similar to dissolving or destroying the first information set and replacing it with a new one - hence lytic (from lysis).

Because these objects would be a visible interface between the differential engine and the user, they would act as a sort of screen between the engine and the user, or a façade.

I rather suspect that one of the large industrial conglomerates (probably Whitworth with their excellent approach to precision) will be contacting me shortly with a view to licensing my GOLF ball technological display.

Simon

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Re: A steam punk VDU ?

Seems do-able...

Typewriter to punch card data entry, fluidic logic to sort & read data back to a flip board display. If you wanted bleeding edge technology you could add add a magic lantern with a carousel and those new fangled wax cylinders young Edison is playing with.

PS: I'm having a spot of bother with the Ballistic Express pigeon launcher when sending messages and cannot dial down the cannon pressure, frightful mess on the house across the street please send a man over soonest.

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Well, there go all my spare thoughts for the next day. Thanks a lot, asshole!

Are we assuming current levels of manufacturing and materials tech, just applied only mechanically, or are we supposed to limit to levels of practicality that you have without CAD, etc? IIRC one of the things that scuppered Babbage was the inability to manufacture quantities of the internals he needed to sufficient tolerances, so it probably makes a big difference.

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Happy

Well, there go all my spare thoughts for the next day. Thanks a lot, asshole!

If it was easy someone would have written it up on a web site by now for the lulz. :)

Actually as the London Science Museum proved some years ago 19th century tech was up to the precision task, but Babbage suffered from a bad dose of paralysis-by-analysis. He kept fiddling when he should have frozen the design, put any new ideas into his V 2.0 file and got on with it. The tech level does make a big difference. As does the materials science. Photoetching allows mass production of fairly high resolutions micromechanisms, but requires better emulsion tech than the 19th century could manage (because photography was in its infancy) but I'm not sure how much better (IE improveable by a lone chemist).

"Super finishing" tech from the car industry of the late 1930's could give a surface finish of 100nm.

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The 1930's were a full hundred years later than Babbage's work. Things had moved on considerably during that time. In no small part to Joseph Whitworth, who it is fair to say is one of the pioneers (if not the pioneer) of true precision engineering.

He was also one of the team who were actually building Baggage's engines early in his career. Much has been written as to how this work influenced his later career because he realised Babbage's machine couldn't be made with the processes of the day.

Don't forget that Babbage's design worked when the Science Museum built it using modern components and processes. There was nothing wrong with the design, it was simply too difficult to construct usign the technology of the day. This was an era when if you brought together e.g. two gear wheels you would then need to manually fettle both until they worked together smoothly. Replace one on them and you would have to repeat the process: the accuracy simply wasn't there. It was only with greater precision (using a tooth-cutting process invented by Whitworth) than such components became standard commodity items that could be relied upon to work together straight from the parts box.

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My toolbox . . .

. . .still contains Whitworth spanners. A very underated chap.

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One other thing - are we assuming access to some type of power source? EG, a constant supply of compressed air, or a rotating shaft from somewhere?

I think I have a concept that might work fairly well. Might even be able to scroll. Can't make any guarantees about refresh rate though... :)

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"One other thing - are we assuming access to some type of power source? EG, a constant supply of compressed air, or a rotating shaft from somewhere?"

Either is reasonable.

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There are several existing solutions to this.

1. Etch a sketch, pointer is moved on surface on which a powder adheres until displaced.

surface is returned to usable form by shaking in original toy, but could be blown perhaps?

http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_trksid=p2053587.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.Xetch+a+sketch&_nkw=etch+a+sketch&_sacat=0&_from=R40

2. Magnetic writing board. Probably easier to use this, see examples here:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/bhp/magnetic-writing-board

3. Or the simplest working principle, where a piece of grey translucent plastic sheet is impressed upon with a backing of a wax coated sheet. Where contact is made a dark colour is seen, Lifting the sheet 'erases' it. Also known as a magic slate.

http://www.ebay.com/bhp/magic-slate

They could all be modified in some way to provide the desired functionality, (perhaps not trivial to do so however!)

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"1. Etch a sketch, pointer is moved on surface on which a powder adheres until displaced.

surface is returned to usable form by shaking in original toy, but could be blown perhaps?"

I'd forgotten all about etch-a-sketch and I did think it's viable.

This would also be the "vector graphics" version of it. :)

2. Magnetic writing board. Probably easier to use this, see examples here:

3. Or the simplest working principle, where a piece of grey translucent plastic sheet is impressed upon with a backing of a wax coated sheet.

I think you've cracked a key issue, which is the erasable memory aspect of the display.

The down side is likely to be partial erasure.

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Two more contributions here

From HippyFreetard

From TheOtherHobbes

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Didn't Gibson and Sterling already have this in 'The Difference Engine'?

It's been a very long time since I read it, but I seem to remember there was a cinema-sized display composed of a large array of pixels, each of which could show a differently-coloured face under program control.

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The tech in The Difference engine was similar, but closer to a slide projector, as the 'data' was predefined on sets of cards. There wasn't really a way for that system to deal with dynamic data or multiple data sources as the thing being proposed by John Smith 19 would be able to do.

Then again, I could have completely missed the point, as that book was horrendously bad. I was so disappointed in it.

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How about something like a Magna Doodle?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_Doodle

I envision it to be similar to a mechanical typewriter but the keys would have magnetic letters and instead of striking an ink ribbon they would be placed upon the surface thus drawing up the ferrous material in the shape of a letter. A user adjustable wiper could be used to erase letters and a carriage return much like a standard typewriter would move the writing surface when a line was fully populated

Printing might be an issue but some kind of photography could be utilised to store the finished page of text before you had to wipe it all of and move on to the next.

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Good one

I was thinking along the same lines, too.

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I would imagine a large typewriter striking the back of something which is statically charged which is translucent. Then we have a continual fall of carbon down the back which sticks to the whatever has been struck.

Some sort of lighting burning behind the whole thing to make the thing stand out and there you have it.

editing? The same way as in vi or ed.

Malc

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"I would imagine a large typewriter striking the back of something which is statically charged which is translucent. Then we have a continual fall of carbon down the back which sticks to the whatever has been struck.

Some sort of lighting burning behind the whole thing to make the thing stand out and there you have it."

I think you've come up the world's slowest laser printer :).

BTW the tricky bit about those was the photoconductor used. Carlon's breakthrough was to use amourphous Selenium, which might have bee available in the 19th century and was by the late 30's,

Actually the light erases the charge IIRC so the moment you've looked at it you've erased it. :(.

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Actually the light erases the charge IIRC so the moment you've looked at it you've erased it. :(.

Well, that ought to confound the boujders and other assorted enemies of Her Imperious Majesty.

As for the laser printer part; yes you're right. I just imagined something that bangs and crashes with massive sparks from the van der Graaf generators and the flickering limelight behind.

And, what's more it could be portable. In a fashion.

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Sand...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x53fpoLeVc

http://www.dubno.com/sandtable/

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"Sand...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x53fpoLeVc

http://www.dubno.com/sandtable/"

Very cool, but I'd have to admit the response time might be a bit too slow. :).

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http://www.skyscanner.net/sites/default/files/image_import/arrivals.board.JPG

Nothing in this technology is inherently electrical or couldn't be replicated with pneumatic/clockwork.

Editing of the last line would be a series of dials to advance or regress the currently displayed character

I'll leave the inner details of the implementation to you ;-)

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Steam trains

My mind jumped to the same thing as they use them in railway stations and trains ran on steam.

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Re: Steam trains

I also thought of this technique, having drawn up a few quick calculations the only thing I can't tie down is how many coal shovellers I will need to keep the hydropneumatic fliper mechanism running at an adequate speed.

Did the original spec mention what FPS was required when running Crysis ?

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Pint

use projection .. have say .. 20 wheels with letter shapes that rotate with a mechanical keyboard or again a set of parallel wheels , backlighted to a frosty piece of glass .. edit is simply rotate one of the wheels . did i miss the point ? :D

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This <could> work

The VDU would be 60 characters X 40 lines. Each character would have tiny windows in a 5 X 7 grid to spell out a letter or number. A small red flag would be mechanically moved in the appropriate holes to make each character. Perhaps compressed air would work best. Note: this will not be portable.

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Re: This <could> work

Forgot to mention the backspace key that would clear the last character by removing the flags. Repeated backspaces would permit editing.

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Luminous paint

A cylinder, coated with a luminous paint that shows an after-image.

Project each character on the cylinder in turn, stepping the cylinder for the next line.

Display won't be permanent but will fade .. ideally, as the cylinder turns but in the case of slow linefeeds, it will disappear in the viewed area too. Maximum writing speed limited by the time taken for the display to fade to lowish levels.

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Re: Luminous paint

That's not a million miles away from how a CRT works, and if you've every played an original Asteroids machine, the slow fade of the phosphor is used to great effect as a little trail behind each 'bullet'.

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I believe that what you need is something like a pin screen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pin_Art), with the pins hidden within and only visible when they're pushed out.

Pins could be manipulated with an x-y traversing arm that carries the character head.

The character head is an n*n array of pneumatic or hydraulic hammers, activated in different combinations by the keys of the keyboard. The hammers push the pins out in various combinations; the pins are a high contrast to the screen (white on black perhaps) that then appear as a character. Each key press advances the head one space.

Removing characters could be difficult. Perhaps the head can make a seal with the back of the character and simply suck the pins in again. Clearing the display would be as simple as tipping it back, or running a shallow-sloped wedge across the front to slide all the pins back into place.

What this offers: the display becomes its own memory buffer. Each character is "stored" in the display and can potentially be read back by a second head - or even the same head, if there's some way of shifting the hydraulic connection from the keyboard to a memory device. It'd be slow, one character at a time, but it could be done relatively simply by extending all the hammers on the write head and then pressing it against the character, and recording which hammers were pushed back and which remained in place. That would give you a record of the pins that had been stored in the display.

There'd need to be some way of preventing the pins moving at that point. Perhaps the pin screen could be made with a plate on the back that slides to one side when reading, narrowing the holes the pins pass through and wedging them in place.

Other possibilities: given you're working with a matrix of pins, you can go back and edit whatever you want by shifting the head back and forth with a set of control keys. With a little tinkering you could even have different font sizes, typefaces and even simple graphics.

No electricity or magnets required.

I hope that makes sense.

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Not sure whether to vote you up or down as your suggestion is close to what I was thinking.

The pin mountings would need to have just enough friction to resist movement under the influence of vibration in the machine but easy to register or cancel.

With sufficient thought I bet it could be made to reproduce images in 3D but how to scan it in would be difficult short of shoving ( for example someone's head into it.

As for actuation pneumatics could work.

This would not be portable on any thing much less than a rail wagon

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I It could be miniaturised quite handily, I reckon. You could get the individual characters down to, oh, maybe 10 or 15mm on a side. Have the screen take up the majority of one side of a box with the mechanics in it and attach the keyboard via a cable containing the hydraulic lines.

The major potential problems would be in the durability of the tiny pins and the reliability of their motion. The clearances required to make a small display wouldn't be beyond the capabilities of the technology of the day, given how fine they made their clockwork.

I'm tempted to go off and scribble up some rough plans for this...

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@Graham Dawson

"I hope that makes sense."

It does.

In fact a version of this has been used as readout device for blind people on a single line basis, with electro magnets tapping the pins.

I've only ever seen the full 2d version in animations made by the National Film Board of Canada. :)

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Anonymous Coward

Lots of scope for imagination here

I wrote a number of stories with a Steam-Punk theme a few years ago. Mine had a lot of what Mills & Boon readers know as 'Bodice Ripping' in it. However, there was a large screen display (10ftx10ft) (paper that scrolled upwards) that displayed characters in perfect copper plate writing all driven by a 'Heath Robbinson' contraption. Communications was by Semaphore over Optical cables.

Just let your imaginaiton run riot. Add a few delectable babes with very small waists and lots of ... well you get the hint. Oh and electrically powered Penny Farthings were around in abundance.

Don't ask about a link to the story. I'm trying to find a publisher for a collection of stories on this theme.

That also why I'm posting anon.

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Re: Lots of scope for imagination here

>that displayed characters in perfect copper plate writing all driven by a 'Heath Robbinson' contraption.

Okay, having 'joined-up' writing (copperplate) is a whole extra level of complication, as we know from computer fonts... that's just showing off! However, automatic 'hand'-written text has been around for a long time:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUa7oBsSDk8

- clip from the BBC programme Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams, Professor Simon Schaffer examines a clockwork creation of Pierre Jaquet-Droz ((1721–1790))

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Jaquet-Droz

The recent Martin Scorcese film 'Hugo' contains an automaton based on Jaquet-Droz's.

For the purposes of having a display unit that can be reset, a wax tablet could be used, and a sharp point in place of a pen. You could delete the display by heating it from below- the surface would be horizontally mounted, and displayed vertically by means of a mirror just like an old PacMan arcade cabinet. Obviously the mechanism would be constructed so as to output 'mirror writing'. )

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how about a matrix of...

... pneumatic rods.

like the old screw-in shutter release buttons.

each rod pushes (and pulls) a black 'pixel' to the front or rear of a small box. Box is filled with a 'milky' fluid so that, when black plate is towards the front, then it is 'black', but towards the rear, the 'milky' fluid makes it look white. each row of the display could be controlled by Jaquard (sp) cards like carpet weaving,

editing achieved by changing the punch-card.

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I thought this would be difficult, until I realised that you could use a pulse-coded dial (like an old-fashioned telephone dial), linked up to something similar to a Strowger exchange and a Solari split-flap display.

I know I'm cheating a bit using pulse-encoders and electric motors, but I'm sure that you could use rachets, rotating shafts and slip-clutches everywhere that the modern displays uses electric motors.

If we take 7-bit ASCII as the character set, that would mean 96 different displayable characters which include all upper and lower case English characters and numbers plus sufficient punctuation. This could be encoded using a 32 place dial like a rotary telephone dial, together with two shift keys shifting to different rachets to generate upper and lower case, and numbers, together with the punctuation. These work well with strowger type gear, and all you would need to do would be to pulse each successive position in the split-flap.

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Forgot editing

All you need is some way of changing the strowger selector to a particular position, and then rotating the split-flap character to the new character.

I'm sure that there is a 'return to space' operation that can be applied to all character positions at the same time to clear the display.

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Boffin

No, please not 7bit AScii

It has to be Holerith punched tape and 6bit Characters (as used on ICL 24bit machines)

You gotta go to extremes here.

Now where is my paper tape repair kit?

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Re: Forgot editing

A strowger final selector has 100 selectable outlets (as opposed to a group selector which only has 10 selectable levels, horizontal rotation stopping at the first free outlet).

But if you're going to cheat and do it electrically there are easier ways and you might as well use your strowger kit to drive nixie tubes.

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Re: Forgot editing

I think basic electricity use was discovered in the same general timeframe as steam. Michael Faraday was credited with inventing the electric motor in 1821.

Nixie tubes are much later. Wikipedia suggests 1955.

So I contend that basic electricity (not electronics, mind) is totally consistent with Steampunk.

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Re: No, please not 7bit AScii @Steve Davies 3

OK, I was using 7-bit ASCII as it allows upper and lower case characters (one of the requirements). 6-bit ICL code only contains upper case characters, although I understand (I only briefly used an ICL 1904 machine in the late '70s, and never got to grips with the available character set) that one of the characters was used as a shift, to provide lower-case characters.

I admit that using an American standard was a bit low, but I could not think of a suitable non-US one. In any case, it would have to have been invented, because ASCII did not exist before 1960. If you wanted it to be authentic Steampunk, you would probably have to use the Cooke and Whetstone telegraph system!

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Happy

Here's one someone made earlier, out of Lego

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tyijTDuotu4

Just requires the control cylinder to be rotated to the correct spot, which was something the Difference engine was capable of. For a larger alphabet replace the cylinder with a belt.

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Re: Here's one someone made earlier, out of Lego

Wow!

That's awesome!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Here's one someone made earlier, out of Lego

That is awesome, some damned fine Lego construction that. What is also amazing is the Youtube comments for the above video don't feature anyone calling anyone else a 'faggot'.

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This post has been deleted by its author

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Windows

Rolodex

I'm thinking a 'rolodex' for each character. Cards with the appropriate type on blown using compressed air to advance or retard one character. A series of air pulses to each position in a 70 by 40 array would allow text to be displayed.

Once there is display, we can imagine valves or stopcocks at the end of each row or column to identify a character whose state could then be changed by a keyboard.

Perhaps the keyboard could be set up pneumatically to advance one position so allowing over-typing?

Serious brass and engineering here, nice idea.

PS: Stross for Parliament (country left blank)

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dot matrix display...

...like the yellow ones used on buses but with more lines, could be powered either by compressed air, steam, hydraulic or mechanical.

The correct name is "flip-disc display" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip-disc_display

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Just to tighten up the parameters a little...

Portability is not an issue but the display (screen is not always relevant with some of the proposals) should be person sized IE that you it can sit in front of you while you work.

I'll note several of you came up with a version of the split flap display which would be reasonable.

A few tidbits that might help stimulate creativity.

1/3 of all pen nibs in the world during the 19th century were made in a 5 sq mile area around Birmingham. These nibs were high precision sheet metal components with tolerances in the thousandths of an inch range, mfgd by a multiple stage pressing process.

OTOH devices that rely on controlled levels of friction seem more doubtful

At around that time Reuters where transmitting dispatches around the world using microfilm messages attached to pigeon tails, so photo-etching would appear to be a viable technology for this era after all.

Rather more doubtful is a thing called a Pockels Read Out Memory (PROM). This is based on Bismuth Silicon Oxide. It's possible to read and write it with light. The crystals are fairly small so some kind of projection system (like a microfiche reader) would probably be needed. A focused light light spot on the crystal at the right color could do selective erasure

When I first thought of this challenge I pictured the back end being something like a the hardware in side a 1970's photo typesetter, where the various fonts were stored on microfilm cards and the font size varied with an optical system.

Those who pointed out something like this was described in "The Difference Engine" should remember that was for a cinema sized projection TV type system, no good for interactive I/O. Standard I/O was by punched cards and printer listings, not really what I was thinking of.

The etch-a-sketch ideas might also be viable as a graphics terminal for CAD work (sort of), although I'd guess more as an out put device with most of the "design" being by processing a command language, rather than tracking a mouse or light pen.

The real challenge is the temporary and partially erasable image storage problem.

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Re: Just to tighten up the parameters a little...

The etch-a-sketch would be like a mechanical version of a Tektronix Storage tube terminal (Tek 4010 or 4014).

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