Retrotechtacular: The Construction of Wooden Propellers

During World War I, the United States felt they were lagging behind Europe in terms of airplane technology. Not to be outdone, Congress created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics [NACA]. They needed to have some very large propellers built for wind tunnel testing. Well, they had no bids, so they set up shop and trained men to build the propellers themselves in a fantastic display of coordination and teamwork. This week’s film is a silent journey into [NACA]’s all-human assembly line process for creating these propellers.

Each blade starts with edge-grained Sitka spruce boards that are carefully planed to some top-secret exact thickness. Several boards are glued together on their long edges and dried to about 7% moisture content in the span of five or so days. Once dry, the propeller contours are penciled on from a template and cut out with a band saw.

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Serial Surgery Saves Wacom Tablet from Landfill

Years ago, [Greg] got a Wacom Artpad II graphics tablet through Freecycle. What’s the catch, you ask? The stylus was long gone. When he found out how expensive a direct replacement would be, the tablet was laid to rest in his spare parts box. Fast forward a few years to the era of the phone-tablet hybrid and [Greg]’s subsequent realization that some of them use Wacom stylii. Eight bucks later, he’s in business, except that the tablet is serial. Wacom no longer supports serial tablets, so he had to convert it to USB.

With the help of the WaxBee project and a Teensy 2.0, he would be able to emulate an Intuous2 tablet by sniffing and re-encoding the packets.  Things got a little hairy when he went under the hood to remove the ADM202 TTL-to-RS232 chip with a Dremel—he accidentally gouged some of the pads it sat on as well as a few of the traces. Feeling frustrated, [Greg] took some high-res pictures of the board and posted them to a message board. As it turns out, those pictures helped him recreate the traces and get the tablet running. A little big of glue and tape later, he was in business. [Greg] even gave himself access to reprogram the Teensy.

hack.summit(); // a virtual dev conference

If you’d like to spend four days learning from and picking the brains of a big group of well-known developers and open-source wizards for the low, low cost of absolutely free, keep reading.

The hack.summit() conference is a live, global event put on by the  fine folks behind real-time programming assistance service hack.hands(). From December 1 to December 4, a wide range of speakers will present and answer democratically popularized questions over Crowdcast via Google+ Hangouts. Speakers in attendance include wiki inventor and Design Patterns pioneer [Ward Cunningham], Codeacademy founder [Ryan Bubinski], Google Glass creator [Tom Chi], Python Software Foundation’s [Alex Gaynor], and even the inimitable [Jon Skeet].

The goals for this conference are simple and admirable: to educate developers of all stripes about best practices, to encourage mentorship in the programming community, and to spread the joy of coding by supporting coding non-profits.

You can register for free simply by spreading the word through social media, but making a donation to the coding non-profit of your choice is definitely encouraged. There are many to great organizations to choose from such as  CoderDojo (an easy choice for us). A tidy summary of the event is available at the hack.summit() FAQ(PDF).

Retrotechtacular: The (Long, Arduous) Birth of a Tank

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, the United States Army provided regular status reports to both its interior members and the American public through a half-hour documentary television show called The Big Picture. Since the program was produced by the government, every episode immediately entered the public domain. This particular report tells the story of the T-48 project that culminated in the 90mm M48 Patton tank.

The film opens by providing a brief history of tanks and the lessons learned about them between WWI and the Korean War. The Army sought a more robust vehicle that could handle a wide variety of climates and terrain, and so the process of information gathering began. After a series of meetings at the Pentagon in which all parties involved explored every facet, the project was approved, and a manila folder was officially designated to the project and labeled accordingly.

vesselsWe then tour the R&D facility where new tank materials and components are developed and tested. It is here that the drive gears are put through their paces on a torsion machine. Air cleaners are pitted against each other to decide which can filter out the finest dust and sand. After careful analysis, different tank shell materials are test welded together with various, well-documented electrodes, and these panels are taken outside so their welds can be directly fired upon.

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100% DIY Intervalometer is 100% Awesome

It’s easy to tell from this process documentary that [Nagyizee] is not one to settle for prefabricated anything. He could have just bought some off-the-shelf DSLR intervalometer, but that would mean interfacing with someone else’s design through cold, soulless plastic.

[Nagyizee] wanted a one-of-a-kind tool built from the ground up. In addition to a timer, he was in the market for a light sensor and sound detection. He chose an STM32F100 ARM Cortex M3 running at 8MHz in the name of power efficiency and started designing the UI and firmware. A custom graphic library for the OLED display streamlines it even further. Once the schematic was finalized, [Nagyizee] devised a stylish and ergonomic wooden case to be milled with a tiny Proxxon F70.

With the enclosure decisions out of the way, he etched and drilled the PCB and placed the components. The light sensor needed a lens and a prism, so he made one from a 10mm LED body. Not one to miss a detail, [Nagyizee] also turned some buttons, hand painted them, and made a scroll wheel. He ends the video with a demonstration that proves it is quite capable. In addition to standard cable release mode, it handles long exposure times, sequential shooting, and capture on light, shadow, or sound. But wait, there’s more: [Nagyizee]’s creation combines modes with ease and grace.

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How To Get 50 More Zed From Your Rigol DS1054Z

[Chris] has been spending a lot of time in the wife’s sewing room lately, and things got pretty serious late last night as he hacked his shiny new Rigol DS1054Z to unlock the 1104Z capabilities lurking within.

The rumors are true, and ungoverning the software is as simple as looking up your serial number and knowing the right URL for generating a valid license. [Chris] ran into a dud site, but that’s the price of doing business in the shadowy parking garage basements of the interwebs. Once he knocked on the right door and uttered the secret word, however, he became the proud owner of 50MHz additional bandwidth, decoders for SPI, I²C, and RS-232, twice the storage depth, and all teh triggers that ship with the 1104Z.

Stick around for [Chris]’s video walk-through. Can’t rationalize the purchase even at the ridiculously low price point? Here’s one way to make it happen. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn some French.

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Retrotechtacular: How to Teletypewriter

This week, you’re going to learn the ins and outs of the AN/GRC-46 thanks to this army training film from 1963. What is the AN/GRC-46, you ask? Why it’s a complete mobile-tactical sheltered radio-teletypewriter rig capable of CW, voice, and teletype transmission.

The film covers the components that make up the AN/GRC-46, their functions, the capabilities of the system, and proper operation procedures. There’s a lot going on in the tiny 1400lb. steel shelter, so each piece will be introduced from the ground up.

You’ll become familiar with the voltage distribution system and the AN/GRC-46’s included accessories. This introduction will be followed by a short course in RF signal transmission and the Frequency-Shift Keying (FSK) that is performed by the modulator. The ranges of both the transmitter and receiver are discussed, along with the capabilities mentioned before: CW operation using the keyer, voice operation, teletype operation, and reperforation of teletype tape.

Finally, you’ll observe a seasoned operator make contact and send a teletype message with movements so careful and deliberate that they border on mesmerizing. When he’s not sending messages or taking long walks on the beach, he can usually be found cleaning and/or lubricating the transmitter filter.

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