Retrotechtacular: The Future’s So Bright, We’re Gonna Need Photochromic Windowpanes

1999 A.D.This is a day in the life of the Shaw family in the summer of 1999 as the Philco-Ford Corporation imagined it from the space-age optimism of 1967. It begins with Karen Shaw and her son, James. They’re at the beach, building a sand castle model of their modular, hexagonal house and discussing life. Ominous music plays as they return in flowing caftans to their car, a Ford Seatte-ite XXI with its doors carelessly left open. You might recognize Karen as Marj Dusay, who would later beam aboard the USS Enterprise and remove Spock’s brain.

The father, Mike Shaw, is an astrophysicist working to colonize Mars and to breed giant, hardy peaches in his spare time. He’s played by iconic American game show host Wink Martindale. Oddly enough, Wink’s first gig was hosting a Memphis-based children’s show called Mars Patrol. He went on to fame with classics such as Tic Tac Dough, Card Sharks, Password Plus, and Trivial Pursuit.

Mike calls up some pictures of the parent trees he’s using on a screen that’s connected to the family computer. While many of today’s families have such a device, this beast is almost sentient. We learn throughout the film that it micromanages the family within an inch of their lives by keeping tabs on their physiology, activities, financial matters, and in James’ case, education.

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8-bit computer project lands in a Philco radio case

We’ve enjoyed seeing the development progress of Veronica, [Quinn Dunki's] 8-bit computer project. It started out on a breadboard, then moved to edge-connected PCBs, and now [Quinn] has given Veronica a body of her own.

The donor is a Philco Model 42-327T and was produced in 1942. It was chosen because it is non-functional and missing several pieces. We wonder about the collector’s value of the piece but since [Quinn] snagged it from eBay there can’t be in huge demand right now. The teardown images are priceless. There seems to be no reasoning behind component placement for the beast. It looks more like a junk drawer packed full of relic components than something that actually worked once upon a time.

But we digress. After gutting the retro wooden case [Quinn] set out to fabricate her own face plate. Since she’s comfortable working with copper clad, she whipped up a negative design and etched the dashboard seen above. It mounts in the original dial opening, and hosts all of the controls she needs to work with the 8-bit computer. Just below is where the present buttons used to be located. You can just see the hexout display for reading data from the registers mounted in that void.

TV retrofit… because flatscreens just don’t take up enough space

[Igor] helped his friend’s family out by retrofitting an old Philco television with a newer flat panel (translated). The original conked out over thirty years ago, but the look of it still held quite a bit of nostalgia for his girlfriend’s Grandmother. She showed it to him on a recent visit and asked if it could be restored. He told her that it would most likely never work again, but that he could use modern components to replace the screen, while preserving the case itself.

The best thing about old hardware like this is that you can actually get the case apart fairly easily. After removing the tube and electronics he traced a pattern of the opening that he could take along to the electronics store to find a TV which would fill the opening. With the new screen in hand he found that using the threaded holes intended for VESA mounting brackets made it simple to install in the old case. A steel bar bolts onto the plate which he cut and drilled to match the TV’s hole pattern. Now Grandma is happy to have the retro-looking case with a modern high-def picture.

Radio cabinet media center

old-time-radio-mediacenter

[Jon] picked up an old Philco radio from a pawn shop for $81. The electronics were shot and the controls had seen better days. So he set to work giving this old beast a makeover, turning it into a beauty of a media player.

The face plate for the controls had seen better days. His solution was to replace it, which gave him more options for mounting a display and controls. A menu system was implemented on the LCD display using a PIC18F4450 microcontroller. The chip also takes care of the three rotary encoders for the user interface and integrates the whole thing with the PC backend.

We’ll be the first to admit that a full PC is overkill in this situation. That being said, this was slow, unused system that is seeing new life. But is it worth the added noise and energy costs? Who knows, we think this leaves a lot of room for future revisions. Perhaps an NAS and wireless controls via iPhone or a similar device?

We’re a bit disappointed that [Jon] didn’t do some work to get better sound out of this. With a great big cabinet like this, the right speakers with a tube amp will produce some sweet sound. Certainly most things would be better than just using a pair of computer speakers. We’ll keep our eye out for an update that adds a tube kit to the project.

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