Retrotechtacular: The Sylvania Tube Crusher

This week, we’re switching off the ‘Tube and taking a field trip to Emporium, Pennsylvania, home of the Sylvania vacuum tube manufacturing plant. Now, a lot of companies will tell you that they test every single one of their products, ensuring that only the best product makes it into the hands of John Q. Public. We suspect that few of them actually do this, especially these days. After all, the more reliable the product, the longer it will be before they can sell you a new one.

sylvania-tube-crusher-thumbFor Sylvania, one of the largest tube manufacturers of the golden age, this meant producing a lot of duds. A mountain of them, in fact, as you can see in the picture above. This article from the January 1957 issue of Popular Electronics vilifies forgers who used all kinds of methods to obtain defective tubes. They would then re-brand them and pass them off as new, which was damaging to Sylvania’s good name and reputation.

In addition to offering a reward for turning in known tube forgers, Sylvania did the most reasonable thing they could think of to quash the gray market, which was building a tube-crushing machine. Pulverizing the substandard tubes made sure that there were no “factory seconds” available to those fraudsters. After crushing shovelful after shovelful of tubes, the glass splinters were removed through a flotation separation process, and the heavy metals were recovered.

Did we get you all hot about tubes? Here’s how Mullard made their EF80 model.

[Thanks for the tip, Fran!]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

Hackaday Links: January 18, 2015

A little while ago, we complained that there aren’t many projects using the Microview, a very cool Arduino and OLED thing that might be just too big for a ring. [Johannes] answered the call with a slot car track timer. He’s using an infrared distance sensor to count off lap times for his slot car track and a mini thermal printer to print out the times. Video right here.

Too many cables in your freshman college dorm room? Here’s the solution.

Our Internet travels frequently take us to strange auctions (we’re still looking for a US Mail truck, btw), but this one takes the cake. 24kt gold plates that were flown in space for five and a half years weighing 6,015.5 grams (212.191 oz). At the current price of $1277.06/oz, this auction should go for $270,980 USD. I’m 99% sure this was part of the Long Duration Exposure Facility, but I have no clue why this much gold was flown. Surely they could have done the same amount of science with only a hundred thousand dollars worth of gold, right?

So here’s this, but this isn’t your everyday, “put an Arduino in a vibrator” crowdfunding campaign. No, they actually have some great tutorials. Did you know that a stroke sensor looks like shag carpeting? [Scott] tells us, “I believe the founders are all graduate students getting PhDs in something or other, starting a sex toy company on the side.” More power to ‘em.

Speaking of dildonics, the guy who coined that term will be giving one of the keynotes at the Vintage Computer Festival East this year. Yes, we’ll be there in full force.

Hackaday Retro Edition: Pen Computing

Although we’re well past the heyday of ‘pen computing’, and seemingly into a retro revival with laptops and tablets that come with Wacom styluses and digitizers, this doesn’t mean the pen computers of old weren’t useful. While they were mostly used for industrial applications, they were useful and some of the first practical applications of touch screen displays.

[Jason] got his hand on one of these ruggedized handheld PCs – specifically, an Itronix T5200. This three-pound mini notebook runs Windows CE Handheld PC Edition 3.01. The specs include a 74MHz RISC processor, 16 MB of RAM, 16MB of Flash, and a 7.3 inch monochrome touch screen with 640×240 resolution. It’s odd and old: when closed, it’s over two inches thick. You’ll be hard pressed to find a modern laptop that thick. [Jason]’s hardware is a pre-production version.

Unlike a lot of retro submissions that have somehow managed to pull up the Hackaday Retro Edition on old hardware, this machine actually has a browser. It’s old, it’s clunky, but it works. There are three options for getting this old computer up on the Internet – either IrDA, an RJ11 modem port, or RS232. [Jason] didn’t tell us which port he used to load up the retro edition, but he did send in a few pictures. You can check those out below.

Continue reading “Hackaday Retro Edition: Pen Computing”

Hacklet 30 – Robot Arm Projects

Robot arms – they do everything from moving silicon wafers to welding cars. Many a hacker has dreamt of having their own robot arm to serve them beer help them build projects. This week’s Hacklet features some of the best robot arm projects on!

robotarm1We start with [4ndreas] who is building this incredible 3D Printable Robot Arm. Inspired by large industrial robots, [4ndreas] has given us an entirely 3D printable design. [4ndreas’] 3D design experience really shows here. This arm looks like it just finished work at a local assembly line! The arm is BIG too – printing the parts took him about a week, and used around 1.2kg of ABS filament! [4ndreas] has recently split the project off into two halves: his blue arm is driven by stepper motors, while the orange arm is a DC motor affair. Both of the arms can use his awesome gripper design. Check out the project page for videos of the arm in action!

6dofarmNext up is [Dan Royer] and his 6DOF Robot Arm. [Dan’s] didn’t want to spend upwards of $10,000 on an industrial arm, so he built his own from wood, plastic, and easily obtainable parts. As the name implies, the arm has 6 degrees of freedom. The electronics consist of beefy NEMA 17 stepper motors and a RUMBA controller, which was originally designed for 3D printers. Dan even created some novel encoder mounts. Each joint has an encoder, which will allow the robot to run as a closed loop system. [Dan] originally entered this arm in The Hackaday Prize 2014. While it didn’t get him to space, we’re betting it will be able to get him a soda!


No robot arm Hacklet would be complete without featuring [ben.phenoptix] and the awesome MeArm. MeArm is a pocket-sized robot arm which uses tiny 9 gram servos for locomotion. It’s built from laser cut acrylic and standard hardware. We loved the MeArm so much that we featured it as one of the challenges in our Embedded Hardware Workshop in Munich. More recently, [Ben] and MeArm have had a great run on Kickstarter. Let’s hope those arms are good at stuffing, addressing, and mailing out packages!


owiFinally we have [Kenji Larsen] with Reactron material transporter. The material transporter is just a small part of [Kenji’s] larger Reactron project. It started with an OWI-535 robot arm. The OWI is really a toy – a plastic kit which builds an open loop DC motor driven arm. [Kenji] has put some serious time into modifying his particular arm. He experimented with molding his own potentiometers for each joint before settling on a printed circuit board based design. Once the new system was in place, he found that his resistors were good for about 10,000 cycles. Not bad for a modified toy!

There are quite a few robot arm projects we weren’t able to cover in this edition of The Hacklet – you can check them all out on our brand new Robot Arm Projects List!

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

New Part Day: Three-dimensional USB Connectors

There’s an old joke that says USB cables do not exist in three-dimensional Euclidian space. Try to plug a USB cable in a socket, and the first try will always be wrong. Flip it, try to plug it in, and that will also be wrong. You will only succeed on the third try, and this is proof that USB connectors exist in higher planes of reality with arcane geometries. The joke is as old as the Pythagoreans, who venerated USB connectors as gods.

The waveform has collapsed, the gods profaned, and USB connectors that exist in only three dimensions have arrived. We’re talking, of course, about reversible USB Type A connector that will plug in the first time, every time. No need for electromancy or the “looking on the cable for the USB logo and plugging it in with that side up” method used by tech plebeians.

This discovery came after going through my daily roundup of crowdfunding press releases, eventually landing me on this idiotic project. It’s a USB charge cable that’s supposed to charge your phone twice as fast, despite the fact that charging speed is a function of current, and that’s determined by whatever you’re charging from, not the cable. Terrible idea, but they do have something interesting: a three-dimensional USB connector.

connUSBThe connector isn’t the brand new USB 3.1 Type C connector that will eventually find its way into phones, laptops, wearables of all types. This is your standard Type A USB plug you’ve known and loved for the past eighteen years. The difference here is that the chunky block of plastic that has made the common USB cable non-reversible for so many years is gone. In its place is a tiny strip of plastic that has contacts on both sides. Yes, it took nearly two decades for someone to figure out this would be a marketable idea.

While searching for a source for these three-dimensional USB connectors, the only source I could come up with was Wurth Elektronik, With Farnell/Element14 carrying a selection of connectors, a few available on Digikey, and some available on Mouser. There are even a few pre-made reversible cables available, with Tripp Lite leading the game right now.

For integrating one of these connectors into your build, there’s only one thing to watch out for: the pinout for these plugs is mirrored on each side of the thin strip of plastic going down the middle of the connector. This means your VCC and GND pins will be right next to each other, your D+ and D- signal pins right next to each other, and now you have to do your layout with eight pins instead of only four.

While it may not be groundbreaking and it makes for some confusing PCB layout work, but as told by a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, this can be a real feature for a product.

If you’ve recently come across a component, connector, or part that’s unique, interesting, or downright cool everyone should know about, send it on in and we’ll take a look at it.

Fail of the Week: Cat6 != Coax

With a new Kenwood 5.1 receiver acquired from questionable sources, [PodeCoet] had no way to buy the necessary coax. He did have leftover Cat6 though. He knew that digital requires shielded cable, but figured hacking a solution was worth a try.

HAD - Coaxfail4To give hacking credit where credit is due, [PodeCoet] spent over a decade enjoying home theatre courtesy of a car amp rigged to his bench supply. Not all that ghetto of a choice for an EE student, it at least worked. To hook up its replacement he pondered if Cat6 would suffice, “Something-something twisted pair, single-sideband standing wave black magic.” Clearly hovering at that most dangerous level of knowledge where one knows just enough to get further into trouble, he selected the “twistiest” (orange) pair of wires in the cables. Reasonable logic, one must select the strongest of available shoelaces for towing a car.

Continue reading “Fail of the Week: Cat6 != Coax”