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:
Once it went public, people out in the world seemed to enjoy sending their messages directly into the office:
Extra thanks to Ben Novakovic for the “best hack week project” nomination:
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:
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.