Retrochallenge 2010
      Winter Warmup
      Mark Wickens

                                      LA75 Plus Printer

      I like ebay. There i said it. For all its faults, and they are numerous, it does
      bring hobbyists and vendors selling retrogear to my virtual doorstep. Can you
      tell a story is coming? Well, to cut it brutally short I'd been watching a
      vendor selling brand new DEC LA75+ 80 column dot matrix printers. List price was
      something like £150, but through my lacklustre and apathetic 'campaign' of
      pestering him once every three months or so managed to secure one for £70 just
      before Christmas.

      LA75 Plus Front View

      If I was 10% less apathetic and 10% more perverse I would have youtubed an
      unboxing video. In reality I was hoping I hadn't just spent my money on a
      retro-doorstop. I also got paranoid about finding a ribbon (as the original one
      supplied was clearly past its best) but in the end secured two suppliers, one of
      which was charging a satisfyingly small £1.75 each!

      LA75 Plus Ribbon

      The ribbons are compatible with a few other printers, including some Apple and
      C.Itoh printers.

      LA75 Plus Ribbon Box

      The printer connects via either a decconnect serial cable or a standard
      centronics parallel cable. The decconect cable can be plugged into a VT
      terminal, decserver or vax/alpha box. All of these configurations have their
      merits - the most flexible for quick prints is plugging into a terminal - no
      printer setup required except on the terminal - you simply either 'print screen'
      from whatever box you happened to be logged into or use the 'automatic' mode to
      print stuff out as it appears on screen. Remote software such as ALLIN1 can be
      used to select the locally connected printer aswell.

      LA75 Plus Top View

      Probably due to the proliferation of multi-part forms that have been the staple
      diet of dot matrix printers for a number of years the America standard 'letter'
      size dominates tractor feed paper supplies when dealing with narrow-carriage
      printers. It works out as 80 colums and 66 lines with standard printer settings.
      I run the printer with 132 colums set as default. When printing via a decserver
      from the VAX I have to create a 'virtual terminal' which acts as the conduit
      between the VAX and decserver running over ethernet. The virtual terminal is
      actually configured like a terminal, so I have to set the LINES to 66 and the
      COLUMNS to 132 to get the right output when printing without any formatting.

      Sample LA75 Plus Listing

      Setting up a VMS print queue is fairly straightforward after configuring the LAT
      terminal device and you can specify all sorts of burst and flag page options.

      LA75 Plus Listing Close Up

      My last dot matrix was a Panasonic KX-P 1124 ditched (not really by choice)
      about 10 years ago. In draft mode it produced a horrible text by using alternate
      pins of the 24 pin head to produce wavy text. The DEC produces great draft
      quality, and letter quality (who remembers that phrase?) is very nice.

      I've configured the printer up to work from a linux box and it will happily
      print graphics and text (once an appropriate LF/CR filter is applied)

      LA75 Plus Front Panel

      The great thing about a retro printer for retro computers is that it is
      flawlessly compatible and that most compilers and assemblers of the era produce
      listing files that are designed to be printed on tractor feed paper.

      There is something highly civilised about perusing a listing printed on
      continuous paper. I love it!