Dual Trace Scope 1939 Style

If you buy a serious scope these days, it is a good bet it will have at least two channels. There is a lot of value to being able to see two signals in relation to one another at one time. Even though the dual-trace oscilloscope goes back to 1938, they were uncommon and expensive for many years. [Mr. Carlson] found a device from 1939 that would turn a single channel scope into a dual trace scope. In 1939, that was quite the engineering feat.

Today, a dual trace scope is very likely to be digital. But some analog scopes used CRTs with multiple beams to actually draw two traces on the same screen. Most, however, would draw either one trace followed by the other (alternate mode) or rapidly switch between channels (chopper mode). This Sylvania type 104 electronic switch looks like it takes the alternate approach, switching between signals on each sweep using vacuum tubes. You can see the device in action in the video, below.

The inputs and outputs of the device are just simple binding posts, but the unit looked to be in good shape except for the power cord. [Mr. Carlson] does a teardown and he even traced out a hand-drawn schematic. Fair warning. The video is pretty long. If you want to get right to the switch actually driving a scope, that’s at about one hour and seven minutes in.

We doubt we’ll see a tube-based Quake game anytime soon. If you want to get into restoring old tube-based gear yourself, you could do worse than read about radio restoration.

Continue reading “Dual Trace Scope 1939 Style”

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.

Help me reverse engineer an LED light bulb

hack LED bulb

I went to the last monthly meeting of Sector 67, a hackerspace in Madison, WI. One of the things shown off was a color changing LED light bulb that Menards was clearing out for $1.99. Inside there’s two RGB LEDs controlled by an ATtiny13 and powered by an AC/DC buck converter. An ATtiny13 will run you around $1.25 by itself so this price is quite amazing. I grabbed a couple of these bulbs and set to work on them. Join me after the break to see what I’ve got so far.

Update: read a follow-up to this post.

Continue reading “Help me reverse engineer an LED light bulb”