Sean Patrick Hagen bio photo

Sean Patrick Hagen

Vancouver based programmer who also does stuff with ttrpgs and video games.

Twitter YouTube Twitch LinkedIn Instagram Github Stackoverflow Pinterest Steam Flickr

The NC-100

So this isn’t another post of me being excited about typing a post on a typewriter.

This is a post of me being excited about typing a post on a silly notebook computer.

That’s right, this time it’s about writing on vintage computer gear! In this instance, I’m writing this on the Amstrad Notepad Computer NC100. It’s a neat little computer that’s basically a CPU with a tiny bit of storage, a keyboard, and a 6-line LCD screen attached.

An Amstrad NC100 Notepad Computer, which is a flat device with an LCD screen and full keyboard. Most of the keys are black with white text, but four are brightly coloured: one is yellow, one is red, one is green, and one is blue.

The Amstrad NC100 Notepad Computer

image from "'Retro blogging & Amstrad NC100 Notepad' from Byte My Vdu"

It’s about the smallest and least powerful computer I’ve ever used, I think.

Honestly, if this thing had a backlit screen I’d probably use it more than the EP-20. As it is, all I get is an LCD that has a weird flickering going on. It doesn’t impact my ability to write on here, it’s just a tad annoying.

Just like with the EP-20 though, there are some differences when compared to writing on a computer with a keyboard.

First is that this has keys in different places, or with different symbols. Not sure if you noticed, but in the post I wrote on the EP-20 I was able to use the symbol for 1/2 instead of having to type out three characters. Here on the NC100 I’m unfortunately missing that fraction key ( if I hit shift on the 1/2 key I’d get 1/4, neat right? ). I do get the £ symbol though, which is neat (if not super useful). The layout of the other keys is closer to what I’m used to; if still holding on to typewriter sensibilities a bit.

One example for that is the location of the double-quote symbol. You know, this one: “. On modern keyboards it’s mostly found on the same key as the single-quote symbol ( this one: ' ). On the NC100, it’s on the 2 key instead. Interestingly enough, the @ symbol is here – but it’s on the single-quote key!

Quick digression: did you know that the @ symbol has been around longer than computers? It used to be the shorthand for “at a rate of”; I think it was an accounting or stock market thing. Being on the NC100 I can’t change windows to look that up, and I’m not getting up to grab my phone and check. Make fun of me on Twitter or something if you’re willing to look up the Wikipedia page.

Most of the other keys we’re used to are here in about the same places you’d expect to find them. Something I would be curious to know is how keyboard layouts have changed from the introduction of the typewriter to now. I know that QWERTY is a relic of the original typewriters; it was meant to space out the most-used keys. If two high-traffic letters were next to each other it increased the chances of them binding and forcing the typist to reach in and fix them. There are alternate key layouts such as DVORAK that adherents say are much quicker or easier on your hands & wrists but I haven’t taken the time to try them out.

See what I mean about these devices bringing out a more stream-of-conciousness type writing?

Anyways, the feature on the NC100 I’m most excited to figure out is how to get text from here to my computer. The reason is that the NC100 has a serial and a parallel port! So I can hook it up to a computer and transfer the file over in potentially two different ways!

Again: terminal nerd-itus, this kind of thing gets me excited.

What I’m kind of hoping is that I can figure out how to use something like an ESP8266 or other microcontroller with WiFi to make this into a remote terminal. Or at the very least make it so I can send data from the NC100 to my computer without having to find the cable and plug it in.

It’s kind of funny and sad though - I got the EP-20 at a local antique store after seeing a few on EBay and deciding I wanted one. The NC100 I got on EBay as well ( the yellow, red, green, and blue keys sealed the deal ). After bringing the EP-20 home I did some research only to discover the EP-22 & later models have a serial (or parallel, can’t remember right now) port as well. This was so you could use your electronic typewriter as a printer! It can also do the same serial communication the NC100 can do. I’m going to hold on to this NC100; it’s a cute little machine that is pretty nice to type on. If I’m able to get my hands on an EP-22 ( or it’s younger brother the EP-44 ) then the NC100 and EP-20 will probably become display items for the most part.

Anyways, I think that’s enough about the NC100 . I don’t have too much more to say about this neat little machine, really.

Definitely going to research if the flickering display is a common problem; hopefully with an easy fix.

Definitely going to play around with the serial stuff, see if maybe I can do more than just send text from the NC100 to my desktop. Maybe I can use it as a remote terminal? Who knows! Me, soon, hopefully!

Also, need to figure out why this thing kind of freaks out when I hit the p key. You can’t see this because I’ve been correcting it as I wrote this, but the p key seems to freak out the NC100. Especially when typing the word “computer”. When I type that, when I hit ‘p’, the cursor jumps back to the previous line. It’s not the only key that does something weird though. I can’t tell if it’s because I type too fast and this thing isn’t exactly a powerhouse, or if it’s maybe related to the screen flicker issue.

One of the fun things about being into old tech like this: always fun things to learn.

Post-Editing Note

A few things I’m definitely going to have to figure out if I’m going to keep using either the Brother EP-20 or the NC100 to write posts:

  1. Figure out a way to make notes about images or links. In both cases I scanned/transferred what I wrote a day or two after I wrote the text. By that time I’ve forgotten about any images or links I wanted to insert. It’ll have to be in-line with the text, otherwise it’ll be too much of a hassle.

  2. Write some tools to make the process smoother. Rocketbook works just fine, but I have to wonder if a decent scanner and some OCR software would produce the same results. For the NC100 the serial transfer works great, I just need a utility that can take the xmodem file transfer and put it in the right place and named correctly. Maybe I can write a Go utility that can create the markdown file Hugo expects.

The last thing isn’t really about either of those devices, it’s about my office. I’m finally getting around to finishing the setup of my office; painting, putting up shelves, etc. I’ve got a nice little writing desk ( that I’m already considering replacing with a custom-built one ) that I just need to clean off and keep clean so I can write when the fancy strikes.

Either way, writing posts using either device is pretty fun and I look forward to doing more of it!

Post-Editing Note #2!

This is probably as good a place as any to list the resources I used when trying to figure out how to transfer the text file from the NC100 to my computer!

For the most part I used this post to sort out most of the details. I ended up with a slightly different set of instructions ( due to using a Linux computer with different software ); the steps are below.

  1. Plug the serial side of a serial-to-usb cable into the NC100
  2. Plug the usb side of that cable into your computer
  3. Check dmesg to see what device was created in /dev, you should see something like this:
    [1705523.270390] usb 3-4: new full-speed USB device number 126 using xhci_hcd
    [1705523.437323] usb 3-4: New USB device found, idVendor=0403, idProduct=6001, bcdDevice= 6.00
    [1705523.437326] usb 3-4: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=3
    [1705523.437328] usb 3-4: Product: FT232R USB UART
    [1705523.437329] usb 3-4: Manufacturer: FTDI
    [1705523.437330] usb 3-4: SerialNumber: AR0JHGHK
    [1705523.443354] ftdi_sio 3-4:1.0: FTDI USB Serial Device converter detected
    [1705523.443375] usb 3-4: Detected FT232RL
    [1705523.451455] usb 3-4: FTDI USB Serial Device converter now attached to ttyUSB0
  4. That last line says that /dev/ttyUSB0 is our serial port now, remember that
  5. Start minicom in setup mode with sudo minicom -s
  6. Select Serial port setup
  7. Hit A and type in /dev/ttyUSB0 ( or whatever device name your system came up with )
  8. Hit E and change the settings so it’s 9600 8N1 ( for me all I had to hit was C and it set things up for me )
  9. Hit Enter to go back to the serial port setup page, then hit enter again to get back to the configuration menu, then select Save setup as dfl which will make these the default settings
  10. Select Exit from minicom
  11. Launch minicom again but not as root ( just minicom on the command line )
  12. Press Ctrl-A Z to bring up the command summary, then hit R
  13. Select xmodem
  14. Enter a file name – it has to be the full path! You can’t just type in filename.txt, you have to type in /home/sean/filename.txt if you want the file to get created ( or the next step won’t work )
  15. Turn on the NC100
  16. On the NC100, press the yellow and red keys at the same time to go to the Word Processor
  17. On the NC100, press the green key to see your list of documents
  18. On the NC100, use the arrow keys to select your document
  19. On the NC100, hit the menu key, then T, then X
  20. Back in the terminal, Minicom should have received the file, hit any key then Ctrl-A Z and then X and select Yes to exit Minicom
  21. Your file should be all good to go, except for one thing: the permissions are wrong – it’s set to root-only read & write ( and you’re not logged in as root, right? ). Use sudo chown $USER:$USER /path/to/filename.txt and you’ll be able to open the file in your favorite editor!

It’s a bunch of steps, but like I said in the first editing note I’m probably going to look into writing a little command line utility to make getting the files off the NC100 a bit easier in the future.