When the east coast earthquake hit a little while ago, I found out about it first from a tweet, followed up by an IM from a friend in Brooklyn, followed up 10 minutes or so later by Google News. I thought it would be neat to have a way to call attention to important events. Inspired by old-fashioned ticker tapes, I put together some code to print specified Twitter updates in near-real-time to a thermal printer. More details in the video:

sample of the tweet output

The tweets are fetched using the twitter Ruby gem, rendered into a PBM image with rmagick, and printed via the pbm2lwxl library. I’ll put the code up on github after a little cleanup. As an upgrade, I’m setting up the software to run on a NSLU2 single-board computer, so the printer doesn’t have to be tethered to my desktop. More on that in a bit!

EDIT: the code is now on Github here: https://github.com/riney/tickertweet-proto

27 thoughts on “Tickertweet

  1. This is so great! Would you consider posting a full Instructable (or similar) for people with little coding experience? I want to make this so bad, and I’ve been looking through your references with much confusion as to where to start. Do you think that you could use an Adruino-based device to host the printer instead of an NAS? Thanks!

    1. Absolutely! Maybe not with Instructables themselves (so many ads!) but I’ll do another video and a more in-depth blog post.

      Arduino would be at least theoretically doable, but being able to leverage a full UNIX environment made things a loooooooot faster. Without Ruby, the Twitter and RMagick libraries, the open-source printer control program, and the factory drivers, not to mention USB support from the OS, you’d have to do a lot more low level coding to make things work. Doing antialiased TrueType font rendering on an 8-bit microcontroller isn’t my idea of a good time :)

      Now that’s not to say that you couldn’t do a simpler version. If you could find a text-only printer with a serial interface, that would simplify the task a great deal.

  2. Brilliant! I teach both art and communication technology in high school and would love to use this setup with the students to create some interesting media art. If possible could you please let me know when you release the code and if I can get further details?
    Its quite a fun project.

  3. Hey man,
    Love the idea!! I have a group at my school that would love to use this! could you maybe send us off the application to run it?

  4. Adrian- Just plain old thermal receipt paper.
    RATz – thanks for reminding me. I’ll slap the code up on github. It’s not pretty, and has a fair number of dependencies, but it’d be a good starting point.

  5. I tried to run this on my DYMO, it worked, but unfortunately it printed the tweet with the address format. Meaning the image got cut off. I tried changing the paper size, but none suit the printer well, nor can I change it to a custom size…
    Can you help me?

    1. (Sorry for not noticing your comment!)
      I had to do a whole lot of fiddling with the driver to get it to print to something approximating the full width of the paper. Try tweaking with the paper sizes in the settings for the printer…

  6. Is anyone else having trouble getting the Dymo to print on plain thermal paper?

    I seem to be able to pipe a pbm image to a dymo label, but when I try to print to plain thermal paper it stops after the first 1.5 inches and reports that its out of paper?!?

    I have read in a few (not necessarily correct) forums that Dymo have ‘upgraded the firmware’ to stop you using non-dymo labels i.e. so the machine insists on the timing marks on the back of the paper. Does anyone know if this is true? I only got my Labelwriter in December 2012 so I wonder if the firmware is different to yours Riney?

    I fear my hopes of getting a custom ticker working may be lost as i’m not techy enough to get a plain thermal printer and print to it via an arduino board etc.

    If anyone has any clues I would be very grateful for the help!

  7. Wow, that’s awesome!
    I’m very curious how you got the labelwriter to print ons POS receipt paper. I’m working on a homemade POS system, (using FileMaker & OSX) and i would LOVE to use my dymoprinter to print receipts!

  8. Could you please tell me what you did with the Dymo to have it accept regular POS rolls? (when i try, it reports out of labels)… Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>