Hacklet 23 – The Groove Tube

The transistor may rule the electronics world today, but before solid state moved in, vacuum state was king. Tubes, or valves if you’re from Europe, were the only way to fly. Every good hacker knew their triodes from their tetrodes and their pentodes. While technology has moved on, some hackers keep the past alive with tube based projects. This week on the Hacklet, we’re featuring some of the best tube projects on Hackaday.io!

SAMSUNGWe start with [256byteram] and Tube Television Tennis. [256byteram] is building an entire Pong style game from tubes, including a CRT to display the game. Displaying anything on a standard television means generating lots of timing signals. [256byteram] is doing this by using multivibrators to create one-shots and flip-flop circuits. Tube Television Tennis is still a work in progress, but [256byteram] already can display a paddle and move it around the screen in both X and Y. This project has already blown our minds!

tamp1From [Marcel] comes this great Low Voltage All-Tube Amplifier, which we featured on the blog earlier this year. [Marcel] does tubes without the danger of high voltage by using the ECL82 tube at 40 volts. The ECL82 incorporates both a triode pentode in one package, making it something of an integrated circuit. Power is provided by transformer while a PY88 tube handles rectifier duties, making this truly an all tube amp. A few passive components complete the design. We can’t wait to fire one up and hear some class A goodness while basking in the warm glow only a tube can create.

obsoleteTimeNo tube article would be complete without some nixies, and [opeRaptor] is here to provide them with Obsolete Time, a nixie tube clock! Obsolete Time uses IN-12 Russian nixie tubes, and goes for a minimalist design. Under the hood it’s all modern tech though, including a Bluetooth radio which allows the clock to be set via an Android app.

hybridHeadphone2[Brandon Foltz] is also getting into a vacuum state of mind as he takes Adventures in Hybrid Headphone Amps. [Brandon] is mixing the best of the old and new worlds by using a 6247 tube as the input stage to an LM386 single chip amplifier. This hybrid is still a work in progress, as [Brandon] is trying to clean up the sound from his LM386.

Hackaday.io update!

private-messageDid you know that we’re constantly upgrading Hackaday.io? We listen to your input on the feedback project, and we’re always adding new features to the site. If you haven’t noticed, you can now send private messages to other users. We’re sure this will help put users in contact with each other, so they can collaborate on even more projects! On the left side of each profile page there is a “Send a private message” button below the hacker’s avatar. You now have better indicators when you have messages or updates too! The private messages and feed icons at the top right of every .io page now have indicators to show how many messages or feed entries you have waiting. These are all based on live data, so they’ll update as you browse the site.

That’s all the time we have for this week’s Hacklet! As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Artisanal Vacuum Tubes: Hackaday Shows You How

Homemade Vacuum Tube
Homemade Vacuum Tube

About a decade ago I started a strange little journey in my free time that cut a path across electronics manufacturing from over the last century. One morning I decided to find out how the little glowing glass bottles we sometimes call electron tubes worked. Not knowing any better I simply picked up an old copy of the Thomas Register. For those of you generally under 40 that was our version of Google, and resembled a set of 10 yellow pages.

I started calling companies listed under “Electron Tube Manufacturers” until I got a voice on the other end. Most of the numbers would ring to the familiar “this number is no longer in service” message, but in one lucky case I found I was talking to a Mrs. Roni Elsbury, nee Ulmer of M.U. Inc. Her company is one of the only remaining firms still engaged in the production of traditional style vacuum tubes in the U.S. Ever since then I have enjoyed occasional journeys down to her facility to assist her in maintenance of the equipment, work on tooling, and help to solve little engineering challenges that keep this very artisanal process alive. It did not take too many of these trips to realize that this could be distilled down to some very basic tools and processes that could be reproduced in your average garage and that positive, all be it rudimentary results could be had with information widely available on the Internet.

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Tweet Messages from Punch Cards

It all started with a conversation about the early days of computing. The next thing he knew, [Tim Jagenberg’s] colleague gave him a stack of punch cards and a challenge.  [Tim] attempted to read them with a mechanical contact and failed.  Undeterred, he decided to make a punch card-to-keyboard interface using optical parts from disassembled HP print stations.  Specifically, he took apart the slotted optical interrupter switches to use their IR-LEDs and photo-transistors. Next, [Tim] drilled holes into two pieces of plastic, gluing the LEDs on one piece of plastic and the photo-transistors on the other. The photo-transistors tell the Teensy 3.1 whenever a hole is detected.

[Tim] developed an interpreter on the Teensy that reads the punch card according to IBM model 029 keypunch codes. The Teensy enumerates as a USB keyboard when connected to a computer. As a punch card is read, the Teensy outputs the decoded characters as key presses.  When a punch card has been completely read, an ‘Enter’ key press is transmitted.  Tweeting the punch cards is no more complicated than typing the text yourself. Naturally, the first message posted on Twitter from the stack of punch cards was “Hello World!”  [Tim’s] binary and source code is available for download on Github.

We’ve enjoyed covering the backstory of the punch card and a previous project reading these cards using a digital camera setup. It’s always interesting to see the clever ways people use current technology and can-do attitude to read data from obsolete systems that would otherwise be lost.  We wonder what is on the rest of those punch cards?  Let’s hope [Tim] has more punch card tweets soon!

Play Music on a High Voltage Keyboard

[Matt] works at a neon sign power supply company. When a vendor error left him with quite a few defective high voltage transformers, he couldn’t bring himself to toss them in the bin. [Matt] was able to fix the transformers well enough to work, and the idea for a high voltage keyboard began to brew. Unfortunately, the original transformers were not up to the task of creating a musical arc. At that point the project had taken on a life of its own. Matt grabbed some higher power transformers and started building.

The keyboard has 25  keys, each connected to an individual high voltage circuit with its own spark gap. The HV circuit is based upon a IR2153D self-oscillating half-bridge driver. (PDF link). The 2153D is modulated by a good old-fashioned 555 timer chip. No micros in this design, folks! The output of the IR2153D switches a pair of N-channel MOSFETS which drive the flyback transformers.

[Matt] created 25 copies of his circuit and built them up on individual PCBs. He assembled everything on a wooden board shaped roughly like a grand piano. The final project looks great – though [Matt] admittedly has no musical ability, so we can’t hear AC/DC flying out of those spark gaps just yet.

If you do want to hear sparks playing music, check out the OneTesla project we saw at MakerFaire NY 2013.

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Sand Cast Banana for Scale is So Metal

If you’ve been on Reddit over the past year, you’ve likely encountered the “banana for scale” meme. [BFG121] felt that the size variation of bananas would not do – there needed to be a standard. He decided to make a metal banana out of re-purposed aluminum. He created his own furnace out of everyday objects including a hair dryer, metal bucket, cement, fire clay, and sand. [BFG121] used a typical banana as the reference for his sand casting mold. After melting the aluminum in his homemade furnace, he poured it into the empty mold, making sure there was an extra hole for the displaced air to escape. The end result is a perfect replica of a banana. [BFG121] made two aluminum bananas, and stamped each one with a serial number. One was given to Imgur headquarters while the other was auctioned on eBay. The winning bid (#39) was $67 USD, a very good ROI.

If you want to learn more about metal casting, check out myfordboy’s channel on YouTube.  You can also see an example of the “banana for scale” in this Hackaday article about a giant spirograph. Our only suggestion to [BFG121] is to send some to ASTM, NIST, and BIPM!

[via Reddit]

The Computeum, One Of The Biggest Computer Museums in Germany

QWERTZ Everywhere

I cannot say in words how perfect the venue for our Hackaday Munich party was. Not only was there a gigantic collection of vintage video games just around the corner, there was also a freaking warehouse full of mainframes, tubes, transistors, and some of the old retrocomputers you may have used in the 80s and 90s.

It’s called the Computeum, and without a doubt it is one of the most complete computer museums in Germany. There are fantastic computer museums in the states, but these don’t hold a candle to the pure amount of big iron and silicon found at the Computeum.

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[Ben Krasnow] Shows us How a Crookes Radiometer Works

[Ben Krasnow] is tackling the curious Crookes Radiometer on his Applied Science YouTube channel. The Crookes Radiometer, a staple of museum gift shops everywhere, is a rather simple device. A rotor with black and white vanes rotates on the head of a needle. The entire assembly is inside a glass envelope. The area inside the glass is not at a hard vacuum, nor is it filled with some strange gas. The radiometer only works when there is a partial vacuum inside.

The radiometer’s method of operation was long misunderstood. Sir William Crookes and James Clerk Maxwell both believed that the vanes moved due to the pressure of the photons hitting the vanes. If that were true though, the radiometer would spin in the opposite direction it normally does when held near a light source.  It was eventually discovered that the system is a thermodynamic one. [Ben] proves this by cooling down the radiometer’s glass with a can of freeze spray.  The radiometer immediately begins spinning backwards, with no light source present.

From there [Ben] mounts the rotor of a radiometer inside his vacuum chamber, which many will recognize as the chamber from his DIY electron microscope. As expected, the vanes don’t spin at a hard vacuum. In fact, [Ben] find the vanes spin fastest when the pressure is about 7 mTorr.

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