All of the Argos Catalogues

The 1974 Argos catalogue has slide rules

A little slice of UK consumer history: The Argos Book of Dreams, scanned Argos catalogues from 1974 to present. (Via b3ta)

It seems that all (?) of these are also up at the Internet Archive. They’re a little harder to find, and some don’t have previews. A decent search for one uploader’s history is “retromash”, though “argos catalogue” finds more. The Book of Dreams site seems only to have autumn/winter catalogues, while the Archive has the spring/summer ones too.

Taxman – a BASIC game from 1973

Back in 1973, the future definitely wasn’t equally distributed. While in Scotland we had power cuts, the looming three-day week and Miners’ Strike I, in California, the People’s Computer Company (PCC) was giving distributed computer access, teaching programming and publishing computer magazines. I don’t think we got that kind of access until (coincidentally) Miners’ Strike II a little over 10 years later.

taxman drawn image from People's Computer Company magazine (1973) , with "1 for you 19 for me" quote from The Beatles song "Taxman"
flares? platforms? centre parting? bow tie? It was 1973 after all

But the People’s Computer Company magazine archive is a sunny thing, overfilled with joyful amateur enthusiasm and thousands of lines of code fit to make Edsger Dijkstra explode. Of course it was written for the local few who had access to mainframes and terminals, but it hardly seems to come from the same world as the dark evenings in Scotland spent cursing the smug neighbours’ house with all the lights on, their diesel generator putt-putting into the night.

Lots of these games from the PCC era are forgettable now. The raw challenge of guessing a number on a text screen has paled somewhat in the face of 4K photo-realistic rendering. One game I found is still a little challenging, at least until you work out the trick of it: Taxman (or as the authors tried to rename it later, Factor Monster). Here’s a tiny sample game transcript:

Hi, I'm the taxman
Do you want the regulations?
(1=Yes, 0=No)? 0

How many numbers do you want
in the list? 6

The list is: 1  2  3  4  5  6 

You take? 5
Your total is  5 
I get  1 
My total is  1 

New list:  2  3  4  6 

You take? 6
Your total is  11 
I get  2  3 
My total is  6 

New list:  4 
I get  4 
because no factors of any number
are left.
My total is  10 

You  11  Taxman  10 
You win !!!

Again (1=yes, 0=no)?

Seems I sneaked a lucky win there, but it’s harder than it looks. The rules are simple:

  • Start with a list of consecutive numbers
  • You choose a number, but it has to have some factors in the list
  • The taxman (or the factor monster, a concept I much prefer as it doesn’t reinforce the Helmsley Doctrine) takes all the remaining factors of your number from the list
  • You get to choose a number from the list, which is now missing your previous choice and all of its factors, and repeat
  • Once the list has no multiples of any other number, the taxman/FM takes the rest
  • The winner is whoever has the largest sum.

For such a simple game (or perhaps, such a simple me) the computer wins surprisingly often. Since I find it fun to play, I thought I’d share the 1973 love as much as possible by porting to all of the BASIC dialects that I knew.

Plain text BASICtaxman.bas —runs under interpreters such as bas. Almost verbatim from the 1973 publication. May not allow you to play again on some interpreters; you might want to try my slightly rearranged 40 column version that should run on systems that don’t allow a variable to be dimensioned twice.

taxman on Amstrad CPC: starting with numbers 1-6, player has taken 4, so taxman takes 1 & 2, leaving 3, 5 and 6
taxman on Amstrad CPC: how BASIC programs look to me, yellow on blue 4 lyfe

Amstrad CPC Locomotive BASICtaxman.dsk — or as I call it, BASIC. 40 columns yellow on blue is how BASIC should look.

taxman on BBC Micro, showing games tart for 1-6. Adjacent numbers are a full column apart
taxman on BBC, Mode 7: dig the weird spacing

BBC BASICtaxman.ssd — for all the boopBeep fans out there. You can actually play this one in your browser, too. Yes, the number formatting is weird, but BBC BASIC was always its own master.

taxman: Commodore 64 showing the instructions
taxman on C64

Commodore 64taxman.prg — very very upper case for this dinosaur of a BASIC.

taxman running on Apple II: loaded from disk, started with 6 numbers
taxman running on Apple II

Apple II AppleSoft BASICTAXMAN.DSK — lots of fiddling with import tools and dialect weirdness because Apple.

taxman: end of game on ZX spectrum
taxman: end of game on ZX spectrum

ZX Spectrum (Sinclair BASIC)taxman.tap — 32 columns plus a very special dialect (no END, GOTO and GOSUB are GO TO and GO SUB, …) meant this took a while, but it was quite rewarding to get going.

taxman - BASIC program listing on ZX-81 running under sz81 emulator, Linux window borders visible
Taxman on ZX81: more SCROLLs than the Dead Sea

Sinclair ZX81 (16 K) — taxman.p — this one was a fight. The ZX81 didn’t scroll automatically, so you have to invoke SCROLL before every newline-generating PRINT or else your program will stop. For some reason this version gets unbearably slow near the end of long games, but it does complete.

crude lithophane with OpenSCAD

small lithophane made from photographic portrait of Muhammad Ali in 1967. World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg (source)

After reading I didn’t know lithophanes were so simple. They were hiding in Cura all along. : 3Dprinting, I thought I’d give OpenSCAD a shot at generating a lithophane image. It did not badly at all, considering this was my first try.

This isn’t a fast process and generates huge STL files, but it’s fairly simple. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Download your image. I used this 479 × 599 pixel preview.
  2. Convert your image to PNG, preferably grey scale
  3. Run it through the OpenSCAD script below, changing the parameters according to the instructions
  4. Render it in OpenSCAD (slow)
  5. 3D print the resultant STL in 0.05 mm layers (very slow)
//  somewhat rough OpenSCAD lithophane - scruss, 2019-10
 infile  = "479px-Muhammad_Ali_NYWTS.png";    // input image, PNG greyscale best
 x_px    = 479;  // input image width,  pixels
 y_px    = 599;  // input image height, pixels
 z_min   = 0.8;  // minimum output thickness, mm
 z_max   = 3;    // maximum output thickness, mm
 y_size  = 50;   // output image height, mm
 // don't need to modify anything below here
 translate([0, 0, z_max])scale([y_size / y_px, y_size / y_px, (z_max - z_min)/100])surface(file = infile, invert = true);
 cube([x_px * y_size / y_px, y_size, z_min]);

I used Makerbot warm white PLA. It looks decent at viewing distance, but close up it’s a bit stringy.

closeup of lithophane eye

There are better packages, but OpenSCAD does this better than I expected.

Lovely automata: bbcbasicbot

bbcbasicbot rendering of my one-liner

BBC BASIC bot [beta2] on Twitter is lovely. You tweet a BBC BASIC program to it and it replies with an animation rendering of what your program would look like on a BBC Micro.

I sent it this:

1MODE4:VDU23,224,24,48,96,193,131,6,12,24:VDU23,225,24,12,6,131,193,96,48,24
2PRINTCHR$(224.5+RND(1));:GOTO2

which readers might recognize as 10 PRINT, the endless random maze one-liner for the C64. This program even inspired its own book – also called 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 – about simple generative art.

You can run it in your browser thanks to the amazing JSBeeb.

Weird thrift-store find: homebrew CD player

I killed some time this lunchtime in a thrift store. I was half-looking for a case for a kit computer, but wasn’t expecting much to turn up. But I found this:

There really are no identifying marks on this. No idea how it got to be in Canada.

♫yoga then stone ants and I are waving♫

Robyn Hitchcock – Trilobite – Live At Sonic Boom Records In Toronto

YouTube’s automatic transcription is not quite there yet:

… it’s got a different feel to it it’s um
I write this in a shower in Thunder Bay
I mean you know like a shower that you
clean yourself in not a shower of rain
or you could clean yourself in a shower
of rain but you don’t always know it’s
gonna rain and you’re not necessarily
dirty at precisely the right time to go
out into the rain but it would be great
if people could time their dirt so they
went out and obviously if you’ve got
small kids and you need to bathroom
regularly because they’re not old enough
to voluntarily shower or bathe you could
just wait for for the shower that would
doom for you none for the infants anyway
I wrote this in Thunder Bay and it’s
about a creature that’s been extinct now
for about 100 million years but it
lasted about 400 million years which is
a lot longer than we are likely to
nonetheless we in our brief lifespan
have already named this creature and
it’s it looks kind of like a ladies
shaving device from the 1940s but
obviously it made a stone because it’s
fossilized it’s called a trilobite
because it has three lobes three
sections to it and you can find a lot of
these still fossilized trilobite sand
cliffs in various parts of the world
they may even be on on the moon for
honor but it’s very hard to prove either
way but you know we’ve called it this
thing the trilobite but long after it’s
like as if somebody dug one of you up in
years to come and said these are the
bones of Gloria Swanson you know you
always who remember you sir particularly
and not Gloria Swanson um as far as I
know because you haven’t proved you on
but I’m assuming you are for all I know
all of you are actually called Gloria
Swanson which only proves my point the
chorus of the song refers to
refers to Elton John buying cheap
confectionery in a down market cafe in
the late 60s before he became famous and
wasn’t able to do that had to get
someone else to do it for him and it has
no connection with the rest of the song
so ok that’s set the scene for this
anyway
trilobite right Dwight’s in the light by
trilobite right in the light by Dwight
trilobite right Dwight’s in the light by
trilobite right in the light by Dwight
basking on the shores of time the little
Stein creature ain’t dead to the world
they call him trilobite right rights in
the light by trilobite right in the
light by Dwight trilobite right rights
in the light by trilobite brighten the
light by Dwight Weldon Johnson but real
name is Richard wood creaking away for a
second of Fame a billion years later
they give it a name they call a
trilobite right and whites in life by
trilobite right in the light by Dwight
when I’m too wasted these rocks to
clamber then lean me on the cliff and
encase me in amber and the creature from
the future in way out when can clop my
fossil and name me span that’s a nice
day
built for a world where nothing needs
shaving yoga then stone ants and I are
waving trilobite right and whites in the
light by trial of pipe right in the
light by Dwight let’s hold a clicking
championship the trilobite wins and
everybody else loses
trilobite try to buy

Robyn Hitchcock, Trilobite, as transcribed by YouTube

The chorus in real life is:

Trilobite, right Dwight’s in the Lite Bite
Trilobite, right in the Lite Bite, Dwight

PLOTPOURRI rides again

PLOTPOURRI at many times original speed on emulated Apple II

PLOTPOURRI is an old BASIC graphics demo for the Apple II. It plots 3D functions immensely slowly. It was noticed on the stardot forum, and a BBC BASIC version was requested.

My conversion lives here: scruss/plotpourri_bbc.bas and runs in the browser here.

Possibly Painless Network Printing from your Raspberry Pi

Printing from computers goes through waves of being difficult to being easy, then back to difficult again. This is likely due to the cycles of technology, complexity and user demand flow in and out of sync. I think we’re at peak annoyance right now.

It’s even harder with Raspberry Pis, as when printer drivers support Linux, 90% of them are for x86 or x86_64 computers only (Canon: ಠ_ಠ). ARM doesn’t get a look in. But one technology does actually seem to help: network printers that support IPP — Internet Printing Protocol.

We had an old Brother laser printer that just got slower and crankier and less useful as a printer, so yesterday I got a new Brother DCP-L2550DW to replace it. It says it supports Linux in the spec, but I knew not to be too optimistic with my Raspberry Pis. And indeed, it was seen on the network but no driver was found. I had a sad.

What turned my frown upside down was finding out about Raspbian’s cups-ipp-utils package. For desktop use, install it this way:

sudo apt install cups cups-ipp-utils system-config-printer

(leave off system-config-printer if you’re running from the terminal.)

On the desktop, open up Preferences → Print Settings and add a new printer. Yes, it prompts for your user password which you may have forgotten. I’ll wait while you try to remember it …

Now under Network Printers, you should see a device you recognize. Pick the one that says IPP network printer somewhere:

IPP network printer

Here’s where the magic happens: you actually want to pick the generic driver for once:

Select Generic (recommended) manufacturer

And again, the IPP utilities package will have picked the right driver for you:

Just go with what the driver suggests

Changing the name and location is optional:

Your new printer’s almost ready to go!

Hit Apply, and you should be printing!

(Hey, printer manufacturers have been known to be evil and make good, working stuff suddenly not work. IPP is supposed to make everything sparkly again, but I can’t guarantee that something wicked won’t come this way.)

Update: After a few months of using the Brother DCP-L2550DW, I don’t recommend you buy it. It’s a perfectly capable printer, but it takes ‘chipped’ toner cartridges that:

  1. stop dead when you hit their page count limit, wasting toner and preventing you from finishing the print job;
  2. can’t easily be refilled by local technicians, so are wasteful of resources.

gleeful bash scripting: contrived GCD function

The greatest common divisor (gcd) of two natural numbers is the largest number that evenly divides both. For instance gcd(8, 12) is 4. There are many clever and efficient ways to calculate the gcd of two numbers on a Linux machine. The method presented here is not among them.

#!/bin/bash
gcd(){ comm -12 --nocheck-order <(factor $1|sed 's/^[^ ]*/1/;s/ /\n/g') <(factor $2|sed 's/^[^ ]*/1/;s/ /\n/g')|tr '\n' \*|sed 's/.$/\n/'|bc;}
gcd $1 $2

(Contrived) example:

gcd.sh 24691357802469135780246913578 61728394506172839450617283945
12345678901234567890123456789

Which breaks down as:

prime factors of
24691357802469135780246913578
prime factors of
61728394506172839450617283945
2 
33
33
33
 5
77
1313
3131
3737
211211
241241
21612161
36073607
38033803
29061612906161

Multiply the factors common to both:

3 × 3 × 3 × 7 × 13 × 31 × 37 × 211 × 241 × 2161 × 3607 × 3803 × 2906161 = 12345678901234567890123456789

I’m sure someone else has used the output of factor and comm in this way before. The hard part was getting coprime numbers to output 1.

Digital Photo Archaeology: featuring hardware DRM from the crypt

So I picked up this large boy from the MSU Surplus Store:

Sony Digital Mavica MVC-FD91 (c. 1998 CE) — yes, that’s a 3½” floppy drive on there

You get about 7 high-resolution pictures on a disk. And high resolution by 1998 standards means this:

1024×768 whole pixels: that’s huge! The camera is autofocus with image stabilization, so it was quite a nifty unit at the time.

Pre-dating EXIF, its image metadata is limited. There’s an external ‘411’ thumbnail file that looks a bit like this:

If you care to dig about in such an ancient file, I’ve got a matching image and its 411 file here: MVC-005X.zip. And manuals? Here: Sony_Mavica-FDC91-W0007229M.pdf

Most annoyingly, the camera really only likes real Sony batteries, or it shuts down with an “InfoLithium” battery error. As this battery format is now used in generate photo lighting systems and Sony don’t make it any more, this may be a camera that dies from DRM before anything else.

Invented right here: the T-Nut

from US Patent 3480061 ‘Fastener member’ by W. H. Leistner, granted 1969-11-25

Simple things like fasteners don’t seem to be invented. It’s almost as if they’ve always been around. Like T-nuts — those hammer-in furniture nuts that also find use as 3D printable tripod mounts — someone invented those?

Sure enough, it seems that local company Sigma Tool & Machine have a lot to do with T-nut development. They’re now on Nantucket Blvd just north of me, and they used to be at 96 Crockford Blvd very close by.

The Quirkey: chording USB keyboard

This may not look much, but it’s a test build of Vik Olliver’s Quirkey USB chord keyboard. I didn’t quite build it to Vik’s specs, which are here:

The Microwriter was a late 1970s/early 1980s gadget that was essentially a portable word processor. Unusually, its keyboard was a single-hand 6 key layout — the thumb did double duty — that was operated by chording multiple keys at the same time. Later on in the Microwriter’s life it evolved into the Quinkey, a chording adaptive keyboard for computers of the time.

Technology has moved on a bit, and the ability to wire up a cheap USB-capable microcontroller and 3d print your own case is here. I used an Arduino Micro on a breadboard and six Omron momentary buttons.

I didn’t quite wire it the way that Vik intended:

Note lifted pins to prevent useless buttons

The buttons are wired like this:

Pin      Button
======= =======
D8 Control
D7 Thumb
D6 Index
D5 Middle
D4 Ring
D3 Pinkie

This requires changing line 22 of Vik’s code from:

const int keyPorts[] = {8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 9};

to

const int keyPorts[] = {8, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7};

While there are great tutorials on “microwriting” in the original manuals on Bill Buxton’s site, here are the basic alphabetic set derived from Vik’s code:

Thumb
|Index
||Middle
|||Ring
||||Pinkie
●○○○○ : Space
○●○○○ : e
●●○○○ : i
○○●○○ : o
●○●○○ : c
○●●○○ : a
●●●○○ : d
○○○●○ : s
●○○●○ : k
○●○●○ : t
●●○●○ : r
○○●●○ : n
●○●●○ : y
○●●●○ : .
●●●●○ : f
○○○○● : u
●○○○● : h
○●○○● : v
●●○○● : l
○○●○● : q
●○●○● : z
○●●○● : -
●●●○● : '
○○○●● : g
●○○●● : j
○●○●● : ,
●●○●● : w
○○●●● : b
●○●●● : x
○●●●● : m
●●●●● : p

The astute reader may note that these are binary values (low bit to high) of the character positions in Vik’s alphaTable variable. And yes, that’s supposed to be preformatted text.

Happy microwriting!

Tact & Buttons

The right and wrong ways to connect buttons

Buttons, Tactile switches, Momentaries, Clickies, SPST-NO; call ’em what you will, but my world seems to be full of them right now. Wiring them or breadboarding them may not be as simple as they look.

Whether they are the tiny 6 mm ones of the less-easily-lost 12 mm ones, both types typically have four pins or legs, two on the top and two on the bottom. If your appear to have the legs on the sides, flip ’em 90°: they won’t fit in breadboard sockets the wrong way.

The pins on the left and right side are common, so connecting top left to bottom left won’t ever change state if you press the button. So use either the pins both on the same side or those diagonally opposed if you want the switch to work.

You can use these buttons on a common breadboard rail. You must remember to have only one button pin connecting to the rail; lift the other pin so it won’t connect. You can then use just one wire connected diagonally across the the common rail pin and you’ve got a working button. This is especially useful when using a microcontroller with built-in pull up resistors (that’s most of them these days).

If you connect both pins to a common rail, you’ve just made a SPST-AO (single pole, single throw – always open) switch. Those aren’t much use at all.

ephemera: Government of Canada “Action Request” – phone memo slip

Government of Canada - Action Request slip paper, yellow, 100 × 133 mm (form refs: GC 12E, 7540-21-868-3907) c. 1990
Government of Canada – Action Request slip
paper, yellow, 100 × 133 mm
(form refs: GC 12E, 7540-21-868-3907)
c. 1990 (est)

found inside a copy of the “Commodore 64 User’s Guide” bought from JPPBM at World of Commodore 2018.

𒐳 / ༳ == ( ⑽ – 𐹭 ) * ( 𒐲 / 𐅉 ), of course

I just got brian d. foy’s Learning Perl 6 from the library. It’s a pretty good book, though it’ll take a good few readings for some of Perl 6’s features to stick.

Since Perl 6 is built using Unicode from the ground up, it does two rather wonderful things when dealing with numbers:

  1. regular expressions match numerals beyond 0–9: ٤ is as much four as 4
  2. numeric constants can (pretty much) be expressed in terms of Unicode values in your Perl 6 source code. Assigning π to a variable does what you think it does. Dividing by ¼ is the same as multiplying by, well, ٤.

So herewith a table (probably incomplete, and very unlikely to render properly for you) of Unicode glyphs accepted by Perl 6 as numeric values:

Value Glyphs
-0.5
0 0 ٠ ۰ ߀ ० ০ ੦ ૦ ୦ ௦ ౦ ౸ ೦ ൦ ๐ ໐ ༠ ၀ ႐ ០ ៰ ᠐ ᥆ ᧐ ᪀ ᪐ ᭐ ᮰ ᱀ ᱐ ⁰ ₀ ↉ ⓪ ⓿ 〇 ꘠ ꛯ ꣐ ꤀ ꧐ ꩐ ꯰ 0 𐆊 𐒠 𑁦 𑃰 𑄶 𑇐 𑛀 𝟎 𝟘 𝟢 𝟬 𝟶 🄀 🄁
0.0625 ৴ ୵ ꠳
0.1
0.111111
0.125 ৵ ୶ ⅛ ꠴ 𒑟
0.142857
0.166667 ⅙ 𒑡
0.1875 ৶ ୷ ꠵
0.2
0.25 ¼ ৷ ୲ ൳ ꠰ 𐅀 𐹼 𒑠 𒑢
0.333333 ⅓ 𐹽 𒑚 𒑝
0.375
0.4
0.5 ½ ୳ ൴ ༪ ⳽ ꠱ 𐅁 𐅵 𐅶 𐹻
0.6
0.625
0.666667 ⅔ 𐅷 𐹾 𒑛 𒑞
0.75 ¾ ৸ ୴ ൵ ꠲ 𐅸
0.8
0.833333 ⅚ 𒑜
0.875
1 1 ¹ ١ ۱ ߁ १ ১ ੧ ૧ ୧ ௧ ౧ ౹ ౼ ೧ ൧ ๑ ໑ ༡ ၁ ႑ ፩ ១ ៱ ᠑ ᥇ ᧑ ᧚ ᪁ ᪑ ᭑ ᮱ ᱁ ᱑ ₁ ⅟ Ⅰ ⅰ ① ⑴ ⒈ ⓵ ❶ ➀ ➊ 〡 ㆒ ㈠ ㊀ ꘡ ꛦ ꣑ ꤁ ꧑ ꩑ ꯱ 1 𐄇 𐅂 𐅘 𐅙 𐅚 𐌠 𐏑 𐒡 𐡘 𐤖 𐩀 𐩽 𐭘 𐭸 𐹠 𑁒 𑁧 𑃱 𑄷 𑇑 𑛁 𒐕 𒐞 𒐬 𒐴 𒑏 𒑘 𝍠 𝟏 𝟙 𝟣 𝟭 𝟷 🄂
1.5
2 2 ² ٢ ۲ ߂ २ ২ ੨ ૨ ୨ ௨ ౨ ౺ ౽ ೨ ൨ ๒ ໒ ༢ ၂ ႒ ፪ ២ ៲ ᠒ ᥈ ᧒ ᪂ ᪒ ᭒ ᮲ ᱂ ᱒ ₂ Ⅱ ⅱ ② ⑵ ⒉ ⓶ ❷ ➁ ➋ 〢 ㆓ ㈡ ㊁ ꘢ ꛧ ꣒ ꤂ ꧒ ꩒ ꯲ 2 𐄈 𐅛 𐅜 𐅝 𐅞 𐏒 𐒢 𐡙 𐤚 𐩁 𐭙 𐭹 𐹡 𑁓 𑁨 𑃲 𑄸 𑇒 𑛂 𒐀 𒐖 𒐟 𒐣 𒐭 𒐵 𒑊 𒑐 𒑖 𒑙 𝍡 𝟐 𝟚 𝟤 𝟮 𝟸 🄃
2.5
3 3 ³ ٣ ۳ ߃ ३ ৩ ੩ ૩ ୩ ௩ ౩ ౻ ౾ ೩ ൩ ๓ ໓ ༣ ၃ ႓ ፫ ៣ ៳ ᠓ ᥉ ᧓ ᪃ ᪓ ᭓ ᮳ ᱃ ᱓ ₃ Ⅲ ⅲ ③ ⑶ ⒊ ⓷ ❸ ➂ ➌ 〣 ㆔ ㈢ ㊂ ꘣ ꛨ ꣓ ꤃ ꧓ ꩓ ꯳ 3 𐄉 𐒣 𐡚 𐤛 𐩂 𐭚 𐭺 𐹢 𑁔 𑁩 𑃳 𑄹 𑇓 𑛃 𒐁 𒐈 𒐗 𒐠 𒐤 𒐥 𒐮 𒐯 𒐶 𒐷 𒐺 𒐻 𒑋 𒑑 𒑗 𝍢 𝟑 𝟛 𝟥 𝟯 𝟹 🄄
3.141592653589793 π
3.5
4 4 ٤ ۴ ߄ ४ ৪ ੪ ૪ ୪ ௪ ౪ ೪ ൪ ๔ ໔ ༤ ၄ ႔ ፬ ៤ ៴ ᠔ ᥊ ᧔ ᪄ ᪔ ᭔ ᮴ ᱄ ᱔ ⁴ ₄ Ⅳ ⅳ ④ ⑷ ⒋ ⓸ ❹ ➃ ➍ 〤 ㆕ ㈣ ㊃ ꘤ ꛩ ꣔ ꤄ ꧔ ꩔ ꯴ 4 𐄊 𐒤 𐩃 𐭛 𐭻 𐹣 𑁕 𑁪 𑃴 𑄺 𑇔 𑛄 𒐂 𒐉 𒐏 𒐘 𒐡 𒐦 𒐰 𒐸 𒐼 𒐽 𒐾 𒐿 𒑌 𒑒 𒑓 𝍣 𝟒 𝟜 𝟦 𝟰 𝟺 🄅
4.5
5 5 ٥ ۵ ߅ ५ ৫ ੫ ૫ ୫ ௫ ౫ ೫ ൫ ๕ ໕ ༥ ၅ ႕ ፭ ៥ ៵ ᠕ ᥋ ᧕ ᪅ ᪕ ᭕ ᮵ ᱅ ᱕ ⁵ ₅ Ⅴ ⅴ ⑤ ⑸ ⒌ ⓹ ❺ ➄ ➎ 〥 ㈤ ㊄ ꘥ ꛪ ꣕ ꤅ ꧕ ꩕ ꯵ 5 𐄋 𐅃 𐅈 𐅏 𐅟 𐅳 𐌡 𐒥 𐹤 𑁖 𑁫 𑃵 𑄻 𑇕 𑛅 𒐃 𒐊 𒐐 𒐙 𒐢 𒐧 𒐱 𒐹 𒑍 𒑔 𒑕 𝍤 𝟓 𝟝 𝟧 𝟱 𝟻 🄆
5.5
6 6 ٦ ۶ ߆ ६ ৬ ੬ ૬ ୬ ௬ ౬ ೬ ൬ ๖ ໖ ༦ ၆ ႖ ፮ ៦ ៶ ᠖ ᥌ ᧖ ᪆ ᪖ ᭖ ᮶ ᱆ ᱖ ⁶ ₆ Ⅵ ⅵ ↅ ⑥ ⑹ ⒍ ⓺ ❻ ➅ ➏ 〦 ㈥ ㊅ ꘦ ꛫ ꣖ ꤆ ꧖ ꩖ ꯶ 6 𐄌 𐒦 𐹥 𑁗 𑁬 𑃶 𑄼 𑇖 𑛆 𒐄 𒐋 𒐑 𒐚 𒐨 𒑀 𒑎 𝍥 𝟔 𝟞 𝟨 𝟲 𝟼 🄇
6.5
7 7 ٧ ۷ ߇ ७ ৭ ੭ ૭ ୭ ௭ ౭ ೭ ൭ ๗ ໗ ༧ ၇ ႗ ፯ ៧ ៷ ᠗ ᥍ ᧗ ᪇ ᪗ ᭗ ᮷ ᱇ ᱗ ⁷ ₇ Ⅶ ⅶ ⑦ ⑺ ⒎ ⓻ ❼ ➆ ➐ 〧 ㈦ ㊆ ꘧ ꛬ ꣗ ꤇ ꧗ ꩗ ꯷ 7 𐄍 𐒧 𐹦 𑁘 𑁭 𑃷 𑄽 𑇗 𑛇 𒐅 𒐌 𒐒 𒐛 𒐩 𒑁 𒑂 𒑃 𝍦 𝟕 𝟟 𝟩 𝟳 𝟽 🄈
7.5
8 8 ٨ ۸ ߈ ८ ৮ ੮ ૮ ୮ ௮ ౮ ೮ ൮ ๘ ໘ ༨ ၈ ႘ ፰ ៨ ៸ ᠘ ᥎ ᧘ ᪈ ᪘ ᭘ ᮸ ᱈ ᱘ ⁸ ₈ Ⅷ ⅷ ⑧ ⑻ ⒏ ⓼ ❽ ➇ ➑ 〨 ㈧ ㊇ ꘨ ꛭ ꣘ ꤈ ꧘ ꩘ ꯸ 8 𐄎 𐒨 𐹧 𑁙 𑁮 𑃸 𑄾 𑇘 𑛈 𒐆 𒐍 𒐓 𒐜 𒐪 𒑄 𒑅 𝍧 𝟖 𝟠 𝟪 𝟴 𝟾 🄉
8.5
9 9 ٩ ۹ ߉ ९ ৯ ੯ ૯ ୯ ௯ ౯ ೯ ൯ ๙ ໙ ༩ ၉ ႙ ፱ ៩ ៹ ᠙ ᥏ ᧙ ᪉ ᪙ ᭙ ᮹ ᱉ ᱙ ⁹ ₉ Ⅸ ⅸ ⑨ ⑼ ⒐ ⓽ ❾ ➈ ➒ 〩 ㈨ ㊈ ꘩ ꛮ ꣙ ꤉ ꧙ ꩙ ꯹ 9 𐄏 𐒩 𐹨 𑁚 𑁯 𑃹 𑄿 𑇙 𑛉 𒐇 𒐎 𒐔 𒐝 𒐫 𒑆 𒑇 𒑈 𒑉 𝍨 𝟗 𝟡 𝟫 𝟵 𝟿 🄊
10 ௰ ൰ ፲ Ⅹ ⅹ ⑩ ⑽ ⒑ ⓾ ❿ ➉ ➓ 〸 ㈩ ㉈ ㊉ 𐄐 𐅉 𐅐 𐅗 𐅠 𐅡 𐅢 𐅣 𐅤 𐌢 𐏓 𐡛 𐤗 𐩄 𐭜 𐭼 𐹩 𑁛 𝍩
11 Ⅺ ⅺ ⑪ ⑾ ⒒ ⓫
12 Ⅻ ⅻ ⑫ ⑿ ⒓ ⓬
13 ⑬ ⒀ ⒔ ⓭
14 ⑭ ⒁ ⒕ ⓮
15 ⑮ ⒂ ⒖ ⓯
16 ৹ ⑯ ⒃ ⒗ ⓰
17 ᛮ ⑰ ⒄ ⒘ ⓱
18 ᛯ ⑱ ⒅ ⒙ ⓲
19 ᛰ ⑲ ⒆ ⒚ ⓳
20 ፳ ⑳ ⒇ ⒛ ⓴ 〹 ㉉ 𐄑 𐏔 𐡜 𐤘 𐩅 𐭝 𐭽 𐹪 𑁜 𝍪
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30 ፴ 〺 ㉊ ㉚ 𐄒 𐅥 𐹫 𑁝 𝍫
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40 ፵ ㉋ ㊵ 𐄓 𐹬 𑁞 𝍬
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50 ፶ Ⅼ ⅼ ↆ ㉌ ㊿ 𐄔 𐅄 𐅊 𐅑 𐅦 𐅧 𐅨 𐅩 𐅴 𐌣 𐩾 𐹭 𑁟 𝍭
60 ፷ ㉍ 𐄕 𐹮 𑁠 𝍮
70 ፸ ㉎ 𐄖 𐹯 𑁡 𝍯
80 ፹ ㉏ 𐄗 𐹰 𑁢 𝍰
90 ፺ 𐄘 𐍁 𐹱 𑁣 𝍱
100 ௱ ൱ ፻ Ⅽ ⅽ 𐄙 𐅋 𐅒 𐅪 𐏕 𐡝 𐤙 𐩆 𐭞 𐭾 𐹲 𑁤
200 𐄚 𐹳
300 𐄛 𐅫 𐹴
400 𐄜 𐹵
500 Ⅾ ⅾ 𐄝 𐅅 𐅌 𐅓 𐅬 𐅭 𐅮 𐅯 𐅰 𐹶
600 𐄞 𐹷
700 𐄟 𐹸
800 𐄠 𐹹
900 𐄡 𐍊 𐹺
1000 ௲ ൲ Ⅿ ⅿ ↀ 𐄢 𐅍 𐅔 𐅱 𐡞 𐩇 𐭟 𐭿 𑁥
2000 𐄣
3000 𐄤
4000 𐄥
5000 ↁ 𐄦 𐅆 𐅎 𐅲
6000 𐄧
7000 𐄨
8000 𐄩
9000 𐄪
10000 ፼ ↂ 𐄫 𐅕 𐡟
20000 𐄬
30000 𐄭
40000 𐄮
50000 ↇ 𐄯 𐅇 𐅖
60000 𐄰
70000 𐄱
80000 𐄲
90000 𐄳
100000
216000 𒐲
432000 𒐳
Inf

So the title of this post really is accepted as a valid Perl 6 expression in the REPL:

$ perl6
To exit type 'exit' or '^D'
> 𒐳 / ༳ == ( ⑽ - 𐹭 ) * ( 𒐲 / 𐅉 )
True

What does it evaluate to? Well:

  • 𒐳 ‘CUNEIFORM NUMERIC SIGN SHAR2 TIMES GAL PLUS MIN’ represents 432000
  • ༳ ‘TIBETAN DIGIT HALF ZERO’ represents
  • ⑽ ‘PARENTHESIZED NUMBER TEN’ represents 10
  • 𐹭 ‘RUMI NUMBER FIFTY’ represents 50
  • 𒐲 ‘CUNEIFORM NUMERIC SIGN SHAR2 TIMES GAL PLUS DISH’ represents 216000
  • 𐅉 ‘GREEK ACROPHONIC ATTIC TEN TALENTS’ represents 10.

Definitely into just because you can doesn’t mean you should territory, and a feature to make the Pythonistas reach for the Zantac again, poor dears.

The Modern Hectographer

In which I investigate a messy, sticky and highly-variable ancient copying technique.
hectographic copies

Way back, if you wanted more than one copy of something you’d written there was no print button. If you wanted copies, each one required a bit of work. Before copiers and printers there were duplicators where you could type or draw onto special membranes that either transferred ink to a printing sheet (Banda or Ditto brand machines) or made holes in a screen to allow ink through (Gestetner or Mimeograph brands). Risograph machines are modern digital ink duplicators still in use and active development today.

One of the predecessors of duplicators was the hectograph. In the 19th century they still knew their Greek and yet were totally okay with hype, the hectograph was named after the extremely, um, aspirational idea that you could pull a hundred (εκατό = hundred, in modern Greek) copies from one master. Once you’ve made a few hectograph copies, you’ll be more wondering what the heck they were thinking: you might get a few tens of legible copies if you’re extremely careful.

Some hectographic copies, all pulled from the one jelly sheet impression

A hectograph copier is basically a sheet of jelly that soaks up certain kinds of ink from a master copy, then oozes the copies back onto paper pressed onto its surface. The ink slowly diffuses down through the thickness of the jelly, allowing different copies to be made with the same plate a day or so later.

Getting the right ink is a little tricky these days. Tattoo artists use hectograph ink to make stencils, so I got a small bottle of ink ($15) from Studio One (940 Queen St. East, Toronto). You can also use hecto/indelible pencils, but the National Tattoo brand one I got from Studio One barely transfers at all.

Making a copier in a kitchen is easy. There are several recipes online (University of Iowa Library and W0IS‘s being two: if you follow The New Standard Formulary historic ones, remember that white glue now is quite different from the hoof-and-hide renderings they used then). My recipe is a bit of a blend of all of these:

  • 28 g Gelatin
    (powdered, unflavoured; in North America, it’s sold under the Knox brand in little boxes containing 4× 7 g sachets)
  • 175 ml Glycerin
    (from the pharmacy, possibly sold in the skin care section; about ¾ cup)
  • 75 g Sugar
    (regular white sugar, about ⅓ cup)
  • 350 ml Water
    (1½ cups)

You’ll need a flat tray, larger that the paper you want to use. Dollar store baking trays are ideal. I used a slightly-too-small toaster oven tray, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

  1. Stir gelatin and sugar into the water and leave it to soak for a few hours. It should form a translucent gel
  2. Heat the glycerin in a double boiler until the boiler water is just simmering
  3. Add the gelatin/sugar solution and stir gently until the boiler water resumes simmering. Keep heating for a few minutes until the solution turns clear
    (The liquid doesn’t have to boil, just get hot enough for the gelatin to melt. Avoiding bubbles is worthwhile, as gelatin foam is not what we’re looking for here)
  4. Carefully pour the hot liquid into your tray, avoiding forming bubbles if at all possible
    (Bubbles can be shepherded off to the edge of the plate with the tip of a scrap of paper before the liquid sets)
  5. Allow the tray to cool and set. This may take several hours at room temperature. The solid jelly hardly changes in appearance from the liquid form

surface of a freshly-cooled jelly plate: extremely clear with a faint texture

Now draw your master. Hectographic ink is loaded with dye, so a little goes a long way. It’s also not a modern non-blotting ink, so you need to be more sparing with it than I was.

The unused master sheet, drawn in hecto ink (purplish black), copying pencil (grey) with guidelines from a plotter pen (red)

Stick the master face down onto the jelly sheet and leave it there for about a minute. I used a brayer to press the ink onto the surface. When you lift the master off the surface, you’ll end up with a slightly ruined master —

The used master sheet: probably too blurred to be usable again. Next time I’ll be more careful not to blot. (Colour balance made it yellow, btw; it’s the same sheet as before)

— and a crisp, reversed image in the jelly plate. I hope yours will be less blot-ridden than mine:

Image transferred onto jelly. Note blots (dammit!) and complete lack of visibility from hecto/copying pencil. Red lines from plotter pen are clear, though they didn’t end up transferring through to the paper copies

Now lay your copy paper onto the jelly sheet for a few seconds. Again, I used a brayer.

First copy, on mulberry paper

The copies come out remarkably dry, but should still be allowed to dry off for a while: this is a wet copy process, after all. The copier is reusable indefinitely, and should be very lightly dampened before use.

This is after use (6-7 copies), a light misting of water and a wipe down with a damp sponge.

This is the same plate, roughly 12 hours after use. The ink has blurred and diffused more deeply into the surface. It was possible to pull a very faint and impossibly blurry copy from this, but it’s pretty close to being ready to reuse

This process is kind-of on the edge of practicality, but is not without its charms. It might be worth looking at:

  1. alternative jellies, such as arrowroot or hypromellose. Gelatin is hydrolyzed animal collagen, and this may create ethical issues for some users. Some glycerin is also from animal sources, but less so than in the past.
  2. other ink/dye sources, including inkjet ink, certain water-soluble colouring pencils and other indelible/copying pencils. I have some vintage — possibly old enough to be quite toxic — copying pencils on the way to me via ebay which may work better.
  3. making 3d printed stamps to transfer to the jelly plate. Since the plate doesn’t need to accept a perfectly flat impression, a relief design might work better than a 3d printed direct stamp.

(aside: I’d previously tried to make a copying pad from several layers of damp kitchen towel to transfer a drawing made with Stabilo All water-soluble pencils. As you can imagine, the ink quickly diffused along the cellulose fibres, making this process at best a very qualified success …

A copy attempt made with damp paper towels. The less said about this, the better

)