In 2010 I turned a typewriter into a serial teletype for fun but it has collected dust ever since, just one more thing to pack whenever I’ve moved. Each quarter, Square sets aside a full week for everyone in the company to build something self-directed and this time seemed like a good opportunity to dust it off and do something fun.

At Square our office is littered with inforads, or “information radiators”. They’re mostly column-mounted televisions displaying web pages that show things like a world map annotated with transactions as they happen, or GPV graphs, or whatever. Omnipresent dispensaries of interesting business information. An automated typewriter seemed like a natural kind of inforad, but what would it print?

Well, tweets of course. Specifically, anything that mentioned the @Square account.

It worked great and I wrote a blog post about it for The Corner. You should check that out because the rest of this post is more of a supplement than a reprise.

People had a lot of fun with it from the start, tweeting funny messages and then wandering over to the coffee bar to see their text clatter to life:

Jerry Lin tweets: "@square all work and no play makes jack a dull boy. all work and no play makes jack a dull boy. all work and no play makes jack a dull boy."

Once it went public, people out in the world seemed to enjoy sending their messages directly into the office:

@Levertis_Menter tweets: "@square I'm only writing this so it prints out on that typewriter"

Extra thanks to Ben Novakovic for the “best hack week project” nomination:

Tweet by Ben Novakovic (@bmn): "@thefriley @square @jack This is possibly the best hack week project I've ever seen." in response to @thefriley: "@square @jack this could be big #hackweek" with a photo of the typewriter, loaded with continuous feed paper, printing out tweets mentioning @square with a Raspberry Pi perched on top and a sticker saying "Scott's Typewriter (Prints mentions of @Square, try it!)"

Like any idea with a week’s worth of effort, it had a couple shortcomings. For example if the @Square account tweeted something popular, the typewriter would faithfully—and noisily—relay every single retweet:

Printed half a dozen times before the paper curls over the horizon, various accounts tweeting "RT @Square: ?Don't count the days, make the days count.? - Muhammad Ali", which was only made funnier by the typewriter's inability to map smart quotes to a key (the question mark was used as a default when an unknown character came across the wire)

But overall it was a fun project and it felt good to give the typewriter something to do with itself.

The source code is available in case you also happen have an output device that speaks serial and desperately wants to create a physical record of the internet as it transpires. I hope you do.