Tapezine: ASCII Terminal Data Stream

ASCII or (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) is a way to standardize a numeric representation of English letters, numbers and other punctuation. Basically it ensures that when you try to send the alphanumeric data encoded in ASCII that any other ASCII compatible decoder can represent the correct data back.

ASCII is a successor of things like baudot or even morse code which was used across telegraph wire and radio waves to communicate in words. This system translates well electronically in computers and after following ASCII teletypewriters, the “glass” ASCII data terminal and later terminal emulator software for microcomputers ensured the healthy use of ASCII. A Computer terminal is basically an electronic gateway to a computer system. You can access this website via my terminal access in your browser.

Electronic devices that could interpret such ASCII data streams when paired with a modem could allow people across the world to connect with computer systems via the telephone system, and of course over the air as an amateur radio operator might. Today we can do this over any method of internet access or between almost any two computers

And so how does this work with Tapezine?

Any text data like a story, instructions, manifesto, poetry, or things like hypertext can be converted into this kind of data stream.

An ASCII data stream can of course be converted into audio frequencies that are interpreted by modem to another modem. Before, devices like the Bell 103 or Bell 202 modem could be used for this purpose, now it is easy to emulate these devices on even a pocket computer. When the data stream is simply being received by a device, even audio from a cassette tape can be used to feed the data to a suitable decoder. There are many ways in which this can be done, but by sticking to existing open standards, this ensures a much better chance of your zine reader being able to decode the signal.

By converting text into an ASCII encoded modulated audio signal, we can record this to tape for use in zine.

Because it is a stream of data that is decoded as the tape runs, there is no double check of data. If there is an error, it is simply displayed. The benefit of that is, if a small portion of a tapezine is damaged, the remainder of the message will stream normally and does not corrupt the entire stream.

Why should I care?

There can be many reasons you as a creator or even as the audience…

  • You can offer a digital text version of your work. (copy/paste)
  • You may be offering digital data that you wish to share
  • You might want to share some old-school ASCII art!
  • You may want to offer a unique reading experience
  • Add an element of time to a zine via a steady readout rate

How do you decode a tapezine then?

The easiest way in the 21st century is through minimodem.

If you run Linux, BSD, MacOS or have a Raspberry Pi you can easily play around with minimodem. There are binary packages for all these *NIX style operating systems on their computer. If you have windows, it’s still possible.

Minimodem is very easy to run; it requires a very basic knowledge of the Linux command line. This free software is a software modem that allows for transfer of data through sound and is 100% compatible with the formats used by Tapezine (Bell 103 and Bell 202)

Minimodem is very easy to run; it requires a very basic knowledge of the Linux command line. This free software is a software modem that allows for transfer of data through sound and is 100% compatible with the formats used by Tapezine (Bell 103 and Bell 202)

What is the experience like?

Playing your tapezine next to a computer running minimodem, listening through the microphone (or if you’re equipped: plugged directly to a line-in/aux-in connection of your computer) while the software decodes is something really special.

  • The real magic is at 300 baud whichscrolls down the screen about as fast as the average reader – practically in “real time” and feels natural.
  • 110 baud can be decoded even in a quiet room from speaker to microphone but is less authentic and is very slow at approximately 10 characters a second. Good for things like tweets or small short statements where maximum certainty of the message is necessary.
  • 1200 baud is fast enough to be seen as a practical method of transferring short documents though requires the clarity of cassette output to computer input (USB audio line in, or built in line-in card if you have it.) roughly 120 characters a second provides a very quick scroll of a lot more data in less tape.
  • Faster than this is possible

How do I run it under Windows?

  • compiling the software yourself under cygwin
  • installing virtualbox and using a compatible disc image of Linux where you can install minimodem easily (a great way to run Linux programs if you need Windows)
  • If this is too much read two-questions further!

I only have android / iphone, how then?

Regardless of iPhone or Android… while the standards are open, unlike SSTV software – the software doesn’t yet exist. If you are in this category, look at the next question…

I can’t run minimodem, how do I decode my tapezines?

For those who aren’t able to run minimodem for whatever reason, I have created a script that lets you use minimodem on my website! Use your smartphone or personal computer’s webbrowser to decode a Tapezine’s encoded text without installing software!

This software will be offered as a free service on this website and will be published when complete and “ready for prime time.”

That said, running Minimodem on your own is a very enriching experience and offers you a lot of control, especially if you want to experiment with making your own tapezines!

Where is this decoding software of yours?

It’s not ready, and not an ideal solution.

This software will be offered as a free service on this website and will be published when complete and “ready for prime time.”

It’s too difficult – Why this format

It’s about standards. To ensure the maximum number of people can take advantage of turning text into sound and back again it is preferrable to use commonly accepted, widely known and widely implemented technologies. The technologies in question are simple to implement using modern technology and are open – or at least no longer under patent protection – which ensures flexibility.

That in mind, it’s about as simple as it gets to do something like this, and the implementation is as painless as possible for many people!