Overhauling an IC Programmer

Willem IC Programmer

[NeXT] needed an EPROM programmer to work with chips from vintage computers. Starting with a low cost programmer, he built this custom IC programmer to handle all of his programming needs.

The device is based on the Willem 5.0e programmer. [NeXT] was not satisfied with the device, noting that it had to be carefully isolated from metal surfaces during use and required setting many annoying jumpers.

To solve these problems, he started off by dismantling the programmer. The IC sockets were moved to a daughter board, which could be mounted cleanly into the metal enclosure. Replacing the jumpers was a bit more complicated, a combination of toggle and rotary switches were chosen to make changing settings easier.

Soldering the boards together looks like it was not an easy task, with 200 solder joints needed to connect the sockets and switches. After debugging some shorts and dead connections, [NeXT] managed to finish the 1.5 year project right before his Christmas deadline.

[Fran]‘s LEDs, Nixies, and VFDs.

FRAN LED

With a love of blinky and glowey things, [Fran] has collected a lot of electronic display devices over the years. Now she’s doing a few teardowns and tutorials on some of her (and our) favorite parts: LEDs and VFD and Nixie tubes

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that someone with hardware from a Saturn V flight computer also has a whole lot of vintage components, but we’re just surprised at how complete [Fran]‘s collection is. She has one of the very first commercial LEDs ever made. It’s a very tiny red LED made by Monsanto (yes, that company) packaged in a very odd lead-and-cup package.

Also in her LED collection is a strange Western Electric part that’s green, but not the green you expect from an LED. This LED is more of an emerald color – not this color, but more like the green you get with a CMYK process. It would be really cool to see one of these put in a package with red, green, and blue LED, and could have some interesting applications considering the color space of an RGB LED.

Apart from her LEDs, [Fran] also has a huge collection of VFD and Nixie tubes. Despite the beliefs of eBay sellers, these two technologies are not the same: VFDs are true vacuum tubes with a phosphorescent coating and work something like a CRT turned inside out. Nixies, on the other hand, are filled with a gas (usually neon) that turns to plasma when current flows through one of the digits. [Fran] has a ton of VFDs and Nixies – mostly military surplus – and sent a few over to [Dave Jones] for him to fool around with.

It’s all very cool stuff and a great lead-in to what we hear [Fran] will be looking at next: electroluminescent displays found in the Apollo Guidance Computer.

Videos below.

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LED retrofit for vintage edge-lit numeric display modules

edge-lit-led-retrofit

This single digit display is an old edge-lit module that [Ty_Eeberfest] has been working with. The modules were built for General Radio Company and have a really huge PCB to control just one digit. [Ty's] modules didn’t come with that driver board, so he was left with the task of controlling an incandescent bulb for each digit. After a bit of thought he figured it would be much easier to just replace the edge-light bulbs with a set of LEDs.

We’ve seen these exact modules before, referenced in a project that created an edge-lit Nixie tube from scratch. Each digit in the display is made from a piece of acrylic with tiny drill holes which trace out the numerals. The acrylic is bent so that the edge exits out the back of the module where it picks up light from the bulb. [Ty] laid out his circuit board so that each LED was in the same position as the bulb it was replacing. As you can see, his retrofit works like a charm.

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Adapting modern cameras to use old flash units

using-old-time-flash-modules-with-modern-cameras

We don’t think this one is going to bring back the days of one-time-use flash bulbs. But for camera enthusiasts who do have old flash units lying around this will be quite interesting. [Sven] worked out a method of interfacing this vintage flash with a modern camera.

The trick is to map the trigger signal from the camera to the flash module. Instead of patching into an electrical signal from the camera he’s using the light from the stock flash. He cut an optocoupler in half, keeping the receiving side of the part. This is molded in plastic that was shaped to surround the original flash unit. When that flash goes off the triac in the remaining half of the IC is activated. This is connected to a hot shoe mounted on an extension arm that is attached to the camera’s tripod mount. The shoe can be used to interface a few different styles of flash modules.

We don’t have an alternative use in mind right now. But chopping an optocoupler in half could come in handy for other applications that use a bright light as a trigger event.

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Neosporin…the Retrobright for bench equipment?

polishing-knobs

[linux-works] picked up an old power supply from eBay, and as it was built back in the 60’s or 70’s, it was in need of a little TLC. One thing that immediately caught his eye was the condition of the knobs, dials, and banana plug receptacles – they were dull and faded, showing off 40+ years of heavy usage.

He started off by simply removing the knobs from the power supply, giving them a thorough cleaning with soapy water before leaving them to air dry. They didn’t look any better afterward, so he decided to take a different approach and apply some triple antibiotic ointment to the knobs. As it turns out, letting the ointment sit for a few minutes then wiping the knobs with a soft cloth really made them shine, as you can see in the image above. [linux-works] attributes the effect to the white petrolatum base of the product rather than the antibiotics, likely making a wide array of products equally suitable for the job.

We know how well Retr0bright has worked for the vintage computer folks, so we’ll be interested to see how long the effects of the triple antibiotic treatment last. It certainly can’t hurt those readers who spend their time perusing flea markets in search of classic electronic equipment.

Vintage VT100 terminal computing…with a Beaglebone

decbox

A cool little project came our way, which we thought might be of interest to some of you vintage computer buffs. [Joerg Hoppe] wrote in to share a DEC VT100 terminal he resurrected in a novel fashion.

His “DECBox” system was created with a Beaglebone, which he uses to run a wide array of PDP11/VAX terminal emulators, thanks to the SIMH project. [Joerg] constructed an expansion shield for the Beaglebone that provides several UART connections, enabling him to connect it to his DEC terminal over a serial interface. Since he added several serial plugs to the Beaglebone, he can even run multiple emulator installations in parallel on different terminals without too much trouble.

[Joerg’s] efforts are mainly for a vintage computer display he is constructing, but setting up such a system of your own should be no problem. If you happen to have one (or more) of these boxes sitting around collecting dust, this would be an easy way to get them all up and running without bulky external hardware, since the Beaglebone tucks nicely into the rear expansion slot on a VT100.

Be sure to check out his site for more details on how his DECBox software package works as well as for more pictures of vintage terminal goodness.

[Bob] shows us how to make DIY calendars for vintage computer geeks

nixie-tubes

[Bob Alexander] wrote in to share a hobby of his that we thought was pretty timely considering the new year is quickly approaching. For several years now he has put together a custom calendar for himself, including both dates he finds important along with sweet pictures of vintage computer equipment. Friends and family found his calendars so intriguing that they asked him to make some for them as well.

Each year his stack of calendar requests grew, and he found that no outlet – online or otherwise could produce exactly what he wanted. Instead of settling, he wrote a small application that lets him customize and print calendars to his heart’s content.

We think this is much cooler than buying one at your local bookstore, and we’re guessing that our readers likely agree. If you were creating your own custom calendar, what cool vintage computer hardware would you choose to display? What if you were designing a Hack-a-Day calendar? Let us know in the comments – we’re itching to find something interesting to look at while we count down to New Year’s Eve!