80s keyboard party


21 Jun 2015, 19:27

As we prepare for a cross-country move, some classic keyboards came out one last time in the old place.
Some workstation keyboards
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All have functioning USB interfaces using their original controllers and connectors.
Knight, Space Cadet, Symbolics
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Sun Type 4, AEK, AEK II
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Model M, 5251
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21 Jun 2015, 19:29

Wow, incredibly impressive collection.

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21 Jun 2015, 19:30


How many Knight keyboards are out there?

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21 Jun 2015, 23:23

Those Symbolics keyboards -- very nice! And even interfaced to USB...

You don't possibly want to get rid of any before the move (just joking...)?
Last edited by Halvar on 25 Aug 2017, 18:45, edited 1 time in total.

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21 Jun 2015, 23:37

Holy shit, that's some collection there.

Needs more pics though.


21 Jun 2015, 23:56

How do you use the space cadet for daily work?

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Wild Duck

22 Jun 2015, 00:41

Ooh, the Knight keyboard, exposed in the wild just like that.

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Cherry Picker

22 Jun 2015, 00:48

Those Symbolics keyboards... Incredible!

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22 Jun 2015, 00:52

See what you've gone and done, MMcM? Ruffled avaricious duck feathers!

And yet, in your profile, you say use a Das as your main keyboard? With a handsome, and useable, collection like that. Come off it!

By the way, how did you convert each of these boards? Details help soothe the pain! Pictures even more so…

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Wild Duck

22 Jun 2015, 01:21

The only way MMcM could have gotten these keyboards, is by being a true Lisp Beard. His must be long and gray.

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22 Jun 2015, 01:28

Wow, this is quite the motherlode. They grey on white Symbolics is the most recent of this batch correct?

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[ XMIT ]

22 Jun 2015, 03:24

Fantastic. Which country are you crossing, and will your travels bring you through Texas? ;-)

I'd like to know more about how you got those older Symbolics keyboards and the 5251 working on USB. Are these custom converters? I've not seen this work before.

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22 Jun 2015, 09:01

That is an amazing collection of awesomeness! So much old pretty metal


22 Jun 2015, 09:07

that's very impressive!
how can you clean the case like whole new!

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Offtopicthority Instigator

22 Jun 2015, 09:08

Welcome to DT MMcM! I see you list "Favorite switch: MicroSwitch Hall Effect" in your profile. Obviously you know what you're talking about. Very impressive collection. ;)

Knight, Space Cadet, Symbolics... :o :shock: CONVERTED...?!??!? :o :o :shock: :shock:

When you have time we have some questions regarding the conversion of you're older keyboards.
Last edited by seebart on 22 Jun 2015, 09:28, edited 1 time in total.

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22 Jun 2015, 09:17

Thanks for sharing this. Some photos for that wiki would be great! I could've had so many IBM, Cherry and Alps boards if I had thought of keeping them back in the 90s.


22 Jun 2015, 15:13

Wow - super rare Lisp keyboards and they're converted to USB.

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Offtopicthority Instigator

22 Jun 2015, 15:20

mr_a500 wrote: Wow - super rare Lisp keyboards and they're converted to USB.
I'm still a little at disbelief with this. But those pictures...
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22 Jun 2015, 21:23



22 Jun 2015, 21:43

Love the boards, and I can't even begin to imagine the amazing stories they could tell if they could talk!
webwit wrote: The only way MMcM could have gotten these keyboards, is by being a true Lisp Beard. His must be long and gray.
I'd say that's an accurate description of one of the 21 founders of Symbolics... :D


22 Jun 2015, 23:21

Amazing, never expected to see such a collection. I assume that covers pretty much all the rarest ones apart from the prototype presented in the thread about them.

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22 Jun 2015, 23:28

oh gosh... I need a new pair of pants...


23 Jun 2015, 01:05

long and gray
Come off it!
It's funny, but it only takes about five minutes for the old habit of Rubout / Backspace to the left of A to come back. I'm sure unshifted parens would too, if I needed to do more Lisp. That makes it hard to switch back to an everyday layout, which is necessary when typing on a colleague's keyboard or in a meeting.
How many Knight keyboards are out there?
Some old-timers were asking ourselves this Saturday. I don't know of any others. I have to hope that they're in good hands, or at least in storage at MIT and not landfill.
the most recent of this batch
The AEK II is there just to show off the difference between Salmon and Cream Alps. The early MacIvories had the original.
Some photos
Please bear with me. As I said, we're in the process of dealing with thirty-odd years of accumulation in a bunch of different areas. I'll try to get some more and outline some technical details here.

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Wild Duck

23 Jun 2015, 01:23

I once mailed mister Knight himself, asking about the keyboard and politely asking if there was any for me for a good price, against hope really (it's too much a museum piece, and a rare one too, and I'm just a mere collector). No answer. But I mentioned this somewhere later and one of his students replied, who said he had two hanging on the walls of his office.
Lisp bastards! ;) My next strategy is to outlive them and pry it from their cold, dead hands! :twisted:


23 Jun 2015, 04:38

Okay. Please excuse the mediocre photos, but the hardware promises to just get less accessible for a while and there isn't much time for retouching.

All the converters in the OP are using an ATmega32U4 as the MCU. Most use LUFA to simplify programming its USB functionality.

The earlier version of this effort, ten years ago, used one of the first PICs to have a USB stack on the chip. But without even in-circuit programming. Here is that board on the left and the newer dev board on the right, using an Arduino Micro. As you can see, without the optional LEDs and switches to select keyboard model, there is nothing other than connectors.
LMKBD & LMKBD2 dev boards
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Most are in old reliable Hammond black ABS boxes, rather than anything fancy with milling or 3D printing.
Keyboard converters
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Keyboard connectors
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The Model M is Soarer's Converter on a board with the various different connectors IBM used over the years for essentially the same protocol.

The ADB interface is just TMK's. If I had a MacIvory keyboard template, which put bucky bits on the arrow keys, I might need more than it. But I don't.

The Sun Type 4 is a custom interface designed for simplicity. There are several others out there, but they either don't use a high-level USB library like LUFA or bit-bang the serial interface. By just adding an inverter, the MCU's UART can do it, since it's chip levels, only inverted like in RS-232.

The 5251 interface can be worked out entirely from the service manual, which is in Bitsavers. The hard part of the design is the voltages. The signals are +5V, but the MOS controller itself needs -5V. I added an isolating DC-DC converter (with a filter cap for good measure). The solenoid (!) needs +8.5V at higher current than USB is gonna give. I just added an external power adapter (from a game controller?).

The Symbolics is straightforward, fitting the RJ jack into the case being about the hardest part.

The Space Cadet required getting the 8748 back in working order, since they keep a charge for years, not decades. The microcode, source and binary, are online. Back in '95, I used a parallel port programmer (from a swap-meet or someplace like that) with a Pentium that was already too fast to be entirely reliable.
Ribbon cable to converter
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Converter placement
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The jumpers out the back are reset and ground, so I can enter the bootloader without opening the case.

I wasn't able to repeat the 8748 feat more recently when the other Space Cadet here, without a case, had lost its program (due to getting more light in, I assume). So I had to resort to a direct interface to it, with the AVR doing the scanning and USB. Cheating, I know, but it's going to need a new case anyway, so it's slipping away from original.
Direct connection
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The Knight keyboard is all 74-series TTL, so it would be possible to buzz out the circuit. But, fortunately, the Space Cadet protocol is actually backwards compatible with it. So it was just getting the timing of the shift register right. The remaining hard part was tracking down an Amphenol mini-hex connector, which wasn't possible after it was obsolete and before eBay had taken off.
TK converter
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Cooper Interconnect 126-221
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23 Jun 2015, 04:45

The firmware will all be back on GitHub as soon as possible. It had to be taken down for a bit for reasons that don't actually have anything to do with keyboards.

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23 Jun 2015, 05:24

Really awesome.
Thanks for great info! It was really pleasure to read your post. Also it would be great to share your firmware code.

I don't think I can get my hands on those keyboards though :D


23 Jun 2015, 05:42

MMcM wrote: Okay. Please excuse the mediocre photos, but the hardware promises to just get less accessible for a while and there isn't much time for retouching.

<Snip Gloriously Geeky Description>
This thread has had me grinning all day knowing that you've kept these keyboards alive and humming. AI Lab, Symbolics and the Lisp machines have always been a combination of inspiration and cautionary tale for me. Hopefully you'll be able to get these great pieces out again after your move!

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23 Jun 2015, 09:52

This just keeps getting better!

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23 Jun 2015, 10:08


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