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DIY Paper Tape Maker/Reader — Parallax Forums

DIY Paper Tape Maker/Reader

TymkrsTymkrs Posts: 537
edited 2015-07-27 12:19 in Propeller 1
Hey everyone!
We just finished a little project where we were required to use the Silhouette Portrait (CNC paper/fabric cutter).  Most folks tend to use it for crafts and scrapbooking but that skill is just not in my veins!  So I decided to create paper tape/punch card and make a reader for it incorporating the Propeller BOE!
If you're interested, I've put the step by step of how I did it on:
For the thought process/daily updates I made during the project:

I think eventually we may make some sort of card reader system for the hackerspace and use it to give out points - 5 points for coming, 10000 for cleaning - all redeemable for little erasers and oriental trading pencils!
Hope you guys enjoy, and let me know if you have any questions!Addie
PS, not sure if this is the right forum for this, as I was going to place it into projects before it became robotics


  • Very nice, Tymkrs. Reminds me of the paper tape readers of yesteryear. How fast can you push the card through and get it to read correctly?  This would be a good idea for a door lock. I've seen some hotels with plastic keys with holes punched in them.
  • TymkrsTymkrs Posts: 537
    edited 2015-07-27 19:02
    Thanks!  You can't zip it through TOO fast, but you don't have to go a tiny hole at a time either.  Best I can think is, steady pace?  Maybe about the same speed as a luggage zipper?

  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    What an excellent project!
    I have often pondered a paper tape reader/punch. Thwarted myself by thinking I can't get 8 hole tape any more. Clearly that is not an issue? 
  • Thanks!  It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it'd be. 
    And in terms of getting 8 hole tape, I'm not entirely sure on acquiring it (though ebay I'm sure has it), but you can make your own :p.  Which is what I ended up doing.  Since Instructables provided the Silhouette for free, one of the prerequisites was using the Silhouette Portrait in an instructable :p  So I needed to come up with something that required a lot of holes (or made sense using the Silhouette Portrait instead of just scissors) and I chose paper tape/punch cards.  But having information means having the means to read that information so..Propeller-based paper tape reader :D!
  • What a great idea for a project. I have always said "Old is new and new is old.  For everyone, this project illustrates that we can always build and learn form "old" technology and make it better.  We definitely need more of this type of DIY and Maker projects to show off the Propeller capabilities.
  • TorTor Posts: 2,010
    I like it.  The school mini used paper tape for permanent storage, including the BASIC compiler which was on a 10" reel.  It had a fast (really fast!) paper tape reader, but for storing and retrieving your own programs you simply used the paper writer/reader built in to the TTY you were typing on. 
    Later in life I worked with 5-hole telex paper. And after that again I came back to minicomputer paper tape when I started working, but that was really the tail end of the paper tape era - we had CCTs and hard disks (replacable disk packs) by that time.
    There's something solid about data storage that you can see.. and fix, in case of "bit errors" or breaks.
  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    Seems 1 inch punch tape is still available in paper or mylar 
  • What a great idea for a project. I have always said "Old is new and new is old.  For everyone, this project illustrates that we can always build and learn form "old" technology and make it better.  We definitely need more of this type of DIY and Maker projects to show off the Propeller capabilities.

    Thanks for the kind comments PropGuy2 (and everyone else!).  I definitely agree, we need to see more diy/maker projects with the Propeller as its brain (even if it's been done before :))
  • The CdS photodetectors are seriously limiting your read speed.  If you used photodiodes or phototransistors you would be able to read faster than you can pull the tape through by hand.  When I was a kid we had an optical tape reader in my Dad's lab which could read an 8 kilobyte tape -- about 4 inches in diameter -- in 10 seconds.  The tape would end up in a big puddle on the floor of the lab, and the reader would catch the end so you wouldn't have to go hunting for it.  Then you hook the end on one spindle of a winder reel mounted in a machine that was originally designed as an electric pencil eraser, told it to spin, and WHIRRRRRR it would suck all that tape back up into a nice neat roll.

    They also had a high speed punch which was about a third as fast as the reader, and made an impressively loud noise as it punched.

    The Teletype terminal also had a tape reader/writer, which the lab had to use before the high speed machines were acquired.  This worked at 10 characters per second both punching and reading (with mechanical pins).  It was entirely electromechanical like a Selectric typewriter, with no electronics other than amplifiers to convert the RS-232 signals to something strong enough to operate a solenoid.
  • Yep, if it were up to Whisker, we'd have done it via phototransistors and IR LEDs.  The reason we used photoresistors instead was because they were available and on hand when we wanted to do the project :p.  So that's what it ended up with :).  One day!  
    Fun stories Roger :)
  • Ahh, punched tape. When I was at school in the 1980s our Maths text-book had an image of punched tape running from the front cover to the rear cover via the spine. When bored I followed it round and to this day I remember it said "The School Mathematics Project Directed by Brian Thwaites."
    Now there is some trivial nostalgia for you!
  • Awesome Hugh :)
    Here's video of it! (and how the Silhouette Portrait cut the folder I used :p)

  • Cute, like to see you boot a Prop from tape!

    Here's a tip:
    You could have used LEDs as detectors as I am sure you would have plenty on hand. Even a green LED light source to a green LED detector in photovoltaic mode would generate enough voltage (1.8V) for a Prop I/O to sense directly, no other parts required. Just connect the anode to the Prop and the cathode to ground and it's much faster than a CdS. One way to improve the sensitivity and response of the LED is to tie the anode directly into the base of a grounded emitter NPN and then connect the collector to the I/O with a pullup, works really well.
  • Tymkrs, a very nice and well presented project, thanks.
    Peter, your tip for a simple LED detector is appreciated.
    Peter, do you have any similar simple ideas for detecting a red laser (650nm) beam?
  • Awesome!

    I love paper tape.  It's still in wide use on older CNC machines of all kinds, lathe, punch, laser, mill.

    Some time back around '89 or maybe '90, I worked on an Amada PEGA class turret punch.  It had only a buffer block of memory to work with.  That's enough for a G-code, even a fairly complex one, and the up and coming G-code.  Nothing else.

    It ran in real time from paper tape, and was actually quite impressive!  Heh, get this!  A program loop actually was a loop!  One fed the tape in, used the forward jog switch to feed it to the end, then taped the two ends together, leaving the length of the tape in a hopper.  That's a long, skinny, rectangular compartment with a glass to see the tape in there, and some shaped sides to help smooth the entry and exit of the tape from the reader, into and out of the hopper.

    One had to smooth the ends a little, and use that really thin Scotch "transparent" type tape to make it reliable, but once setup, it could run for days...

    That shop was an interesting mix of the old and new.  I was at various machine stations using a Tandy pocket computer and BASIC programs to assist in the making of sheet metal parts and their layouts, doing statistical process control charts (hand plot after compute), etc...  Many of the machines used paper tape due to their age, and the company being little and lean.  They had a Tek storage display unit that used paper tape as it's I/O in tandem with cassette type cartridge units for faster, larger bulk storage.  You would run programs from the cartridge system, which had indexes to help get specific programs off of it, do your thing, and generally output data, G-code and such using a combination of printer and paper tape, punched on the little puncher.  That thing worked at 4800 baud write, 9600 read.

    (I think it was supposed to work at 9600 both ways, but some of the tape we used was not the oil embedded type, or was mylar, and to make sure it would punch anything nicely, we lubed it on occasion and just ran slow enough to deal with any tape.)

    Mylar paper tape can be read really, really fast!  Second fastest is the black, oil saturated tape, and then came various papers after that.

    Later when MSDOS PCs came into the picture, it was kind of fun to put programs on the tape and load them from it instead of floppy disk.

    You know, this project could have some application.  There are people who really do need to continue with paper tape.  I still bump into it with CNC machines from time to time.  Mostly people running older gear making parts for some cash, or a little company doing fine with old tech.

    The puncher / reader units for PC are EXPENSIVE!!  And they are hard to source sometimes.  Making a puncher is a PITA, though maybe not, but a reader that can do serial with the hardware / software handshaking options would drive CNC machines nicely. 

    There are a lot of good memories for me associated with paper tape.  It's fun to see the bit bucket, which literally contains bits!  And it's kind of like audio tape in that one can splice and literally "patch" a program by reading the tape by eye, cutting it where the inserted or changed instructions / data need to go, punch that out of a blank tape with a hand puncher you press to cut out the right bits, and some pre-punched tape with the center index holes tapes it all back together.

    That's what the patch tape looked like, sort of.  The kind I used had the index holes.

    Here's a little puncher:

    The one I used had buttons and an advance option.  Faster.  lol

    One time, I generated an entire program (which wasn't all that big) using the hand puncher after generating the G-code by hand.  Sort of like doing a hand assembly today.  Just punch it all out, walk over to the machine, feed it, go...


    Oh, mylar tape is painful!  It attracts every bit of dust and grime it can.  Huge static electricity.  Pro-Tip:  The invention of dryer sheets helped improve mylar.  Hold the sheets against the tape and they deposit an anti-static coating that helps a lot.  We used a damp cloth and some similar liquid to do it back in the day.  Woe to the person who didn't do that and dropped a mylar tape!  Instant tangled mess!

  • This is a nice project. It's great to see inventiveness in action.

    A few months ago I was given a hundred year old player piano, with holes punched in paper rolls much like these tapes.

    I was wondering about new ways to make new player piano rolls. Does anyone know if a laser would be able to cut holes in paper without setting the entire thing on fire?

  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    David B.
    Oh wow. You have to get some pictures of that player piano for us. Close ups of it inner workings preferably. What a great thing to have. 

  • I have an almost brand new GNT Punch/Reader that used to be attached to a Gerber PCB design station. It was in my sales office and did not get much use. It was used to output Excellon drill data.
    Last time I fired it up two years ago, I heard a few Tantalum caps pop. I order enough to repopulate the boards but have not have the time to recap. 
    These things still go for close to $1,000 or more. I would imaging the punch mechanism is the most costly part.

    This is one in operation with an Altair, ( gosh I miss my Altair).

  • We used (mostly) the oiled black tape.  Used to dump the bit bucket into a burn bag for disposal.  Sometimes the burn bag would ooze oil from the chad.  You can see a reader and punch in the avitar
  • Did someone mention punched tape???

    200 x 308 - 13K
  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    Oh yeah. Used such teletypes to practice our BASIC and assembler skills with back in 1973 or so in school. Connected to some mainframe in a far away city, never found out what or where, via a modem with acoustic couplers.
    Here is a teaser, anyone of that generation here who can tell us what the "HERE IS" key was used for on those terminals?
  • To identify the teletype and acknowledge the connection.
  • PublisonPublison Posts: 11,858
    edited 2015-07-31 20:43
    Did someone mention punched tape???


    Tossed one in the dumpster 15 years ago saying, "what can I do with this anymore".
    At the time I had a GE Telenet 300, (300 Baud band printer), but I do miss the 110 Baud Punch and reader.
    Back in High School in 1972, we had a IBM "Golf Ball" terminal connected to the local university's IBM 360.  Had to make a phone call to have them load a mag tape of Basic so we could play.
  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    Yes indeed.
    Weird thing is that at the time nobody could tell me what the "HERE IS" key did. It took on some metaphysical meaning in my mind. "HERE IS", here is what? And where is here? And what is "IS" anyway?
    It was years later that I found out.
    Now a days I want a "HERE IS" box with all my user names and passwords on it to perform a similar function Not really practical though. 
  • Think of it like "Here is Sapphire". That's my identity! Probably would have been better called "I am"
  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    Yes, yes. Sorry I cannot express the weird feeling of fascination the "HERE IS" key instilled in me at the time.
    It's a bit like that weird key, second left, bottom row, with the flag looking thingy on it that we have everywhere now a days. What is that for? It never seems to do anything. 

  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    edited 2015-07-31 21:10
    Yeah, yeah, don't tell me, I know what it is.
    Shocking thing is that every keyboard manufacturer is paying for that flag thingy key:
    "Microsoft regulates the appearance of the Windows key logo picture with a specially crafted license for keyboard manufacturers ("Microsoft Windows Logo Key Logo License Agreement for Keyboard Manufacturers")."

    Is there any place one can buy a keyboard with out that nonsense?

  • Did someone mention punched tape???


    and who would've thought at the time that 30 years later you could fit eight 32-bit processors in less space than the "HERE IS" key!
    Now that would've been something to crow "HERE IS" about!

  • Tymkrs.That is an impressive setup. It got an excellent write up on Hack A Day a while ago. Oh and folks, how many of you came to the Vintage Computer Festival East back in April? You'd have seen plenty of them at work.
    Incidentally is that a PAB with the DB9 instead of a USB connector you two used for your Prop1 board?
    Oh and the original purpose of the paper tape output on the ASR33 was so that the teletype could maintain a running copy of all of the messages it received and printed out, that was in case duplicates were needed.
    Program storage came later. About the time the DEC PDP family was first launched and need it.
    I used paper tape a lot for of all things phototypesetting back in the late Seventies and all during the Eighties. Would you folks believe I want one of those big things here so I can properly communicate with one of my machines running Linux?
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