Anyone with grandparents already knows that in ye olden days, televisions did not have remote control. Your parents probably still complain about how, as children, they were forced to physically walk over to the TV in order to switch between the three available channels. In these modern times of technological wonder, we have voice control, programmable touch screen remotes, and streaming services that will automatically play an entire season of the show you’re binge watching. However, before these, and before the ubiquitous infrared remote, television manufacturers were experimenting with ways to keep kids from having to run across the living room every time the channel needed to be changed.
Early remote controls were simply wired affairs — nothing too surprising there. But, it wasn’t long before methods of wireless control were being introduced. One early effort called the Flashmatic would shine light onto a photoelectric cell on the television set to control it. Of course, it might also be controlled by unintended light sources, and users had to have good aim to hit the sensor. These issues soon led to the introduction of the Zenith Space Command remote control, which used ultrasonic frequencies to control the TV.
[Jochen Alt] is on a roll. We just covered his ball-balancing robot, Paul, only to find his phenomenal six-DOF robot arm in full retro style. Its name is “Walter” and it’s done up in DDR style (the former East Germany), in painted, 3D-printed plastic. The full design and build documents are an absolutely amazing resource if you’re into robot arm or legs.
In particular, the sections on trajectory planning and kinematics are fantastic. If you’re interested in robot motion planning by Bezier curves, you know where to go. (We’ve always wanted a Bezier-curve 3D printer slicer, but that’s another story.) The construction is also top-notch here, and the attention to detail that went into this arm is phenomenal. It’s all done with stepper motors and geared belts, which allow each of Walter’s joints to be driven by a motor that’s one joint further upstream than would be the case if it were designed with servos. [Jochen] even went so far as to expose the belt in some places to show off the gearing. Walter is worth checking out.
Even if you’ll never build such a fancy robot arm, you should read through the docs just to appreciate all of the thought and work that went into this very refined and simple-from-the-outside design. If you’d like to start out on the simple side of the spectrum, check out these robot arms made of office supplies or a desk lamp. Once you’re ready for your second arm project this short list, some of which [Jochen] mention in his writeup, should get you up and grasping. And do check out his balancing bot, Paul.
When you get to a certain age, you get unsettled by people calling “your” music oldies. That’s how a few of us felt when we saw [Mikrowave1’s] video about Retro QRP – Solid Gold Years (see below). “QRP” is the ham radio term for low power operation, and the “solid gold” years in question are the 1960s to 1980. The videox has some good stuff, including some old books and some analysis of a popular one-transistor design from that time. He even tries a few different period transistors to see which works best.
[Mikrowave1] talks about the construction techniques used in that time frame, old transistors, and some vintage test equipment. You can even see an old ARC-5 command receiver in use to listen to the transmitter. These were made for use in military aircraft and were very common as surplus.
Metropolis is a classic, silent film produced in 1927 and was one of the very first full length feature films of the science fiction genre, and very influential. (C-3PO was inspired by Maria, the “Machine human” in Metropolis.) Within the first couple of minutes in the film, we get to see two clocks — one with a 24-hour dial and another larger one with a 10-hour dial. The human overlords of Metropolis lived a utopian 24 hour day, while the worker scum who were forced to live and work underground, were subjected to work in two ten-hour shifts during the same period.
[Aaron]’s client was setting up a Metropolis themed man-cave and commissioned him to build a Metropolis Oscilloclock which would not only show the 24 hour and 10 hour clocks from the film, but also accurately reproduce the clock movements and its fonts. [Aaron]’s Oscilloclock is his latest project in the series of bespoke CRT clocks which he has been building since he was a teen.
The clock is built around a Toshiba ST-1248D vintage oscilloscope that has been beautifully restored. There are some modern additions – such as LED glow indicators for the various valves and an external X-Y input to allow rendering Lissajous figures on the CRT. He’s also added some animations derived from the original poster of the film. Doing a project of this magnitude is not trivial and its taken him almost eight months to bring it from concept to reality. We recommend looking through some of his other blog posts too, where he describes how oscilloclocks work, how he builds the HV power supplies needed to drive the CRT’s, and how he ensures vibration and noise damping for the cooling fans used for the HV power supplies. It’s this attention to detail which results in such well-built clocks. Check out some of [Aaron]’s other awesome Oscilloclock builds that we have featured over the years.
The film itself has undergone several restoration attempts, with most of it being recovered from prints which were discovered in old archives. If you wish to go down that rabbit hole, check out Wikipedia for more details and then head over to YouTube where several versions appear to be hosted.
After getting a power supply and a multimeter, the next piece of gear a hacker would want to add to their bench is the oscilloscope. Nowadays, even the cheapest ones cost a few hundred dollars yet pack in the features. At the other end of the scale, if you can pony up close to a million dollars, you can help yourself to an oscilloscope capable of 100 GHz bandwidth and 240 GS/s sampling rate. With that perspective, it becomes interesting to take a look at this video (embedded below), where [Jack Ganssle] shows us the Philco 7019 Junior Scope which was introduced way back in 1946. It seems the Philco 7019 model was an identical re-badged version of the Waterman Model S-10-A PocketScope.
[Jack] is familiar to all of us as an embedded systems engineer, but in this video he does a teardown of this vintage analog model. He starts off by walking us through the various controls, of which there are not a lot, in this “portable” instrument. At around the 3:40 mark in the video, he’ll make you wince as he uses a screwdriver and hammer combo to smash another ’40’s vintage CRT just so he can show us it’s innards — the electron beam source and the horizontal and vertical deflection plates. The circuit is about as bare-bones as it can get. Besides the CRT, there are just three vacuum tubes. One is the rectifier for the power supply, a second one is used for the vertical amplifier while the third one is the free running horizontal sweep oscillator. There is no triggering option — you just adjust the sweep frequency via a potentiometer as best you can. It does have internal, external and line frequency function selection, but it still requires manual adjustment of the sweep oscillator. There’s no blanking signal either, so the return sweep is always clearly visible. This is evident from the horizontal burn mark on the phosphor of the CRT after decades of use. It’s amusing to see that the vertical position could be adjusted by moving a magnet attached to the side cover.
Old American radios (and we mean really old ones) took several kinds of batteries. The A battery powered the filaments (generally 1.5V at a high current draw). The B battery powered the plate (much lower current, but a higher voltage–typically 90V). In Britain these were the LT (low tension) and HT (high tension) batteries. If you want to rebuild and operate old radios, you have to come up with a way to generate that B voltage.
Most people opt to use an AC supply. You can daisy-chain a bunch of 9V batteries, but that really ruins the asthetics of the radio. [VA3NGC] had a better idea: he built a reproduction B battery from a wooden box, some brass hardware, a nixie tube power supply, and a 9V battery (which remains hidden). There’s also a handful of zener diodes, resistors, and capacitors to allow different taps depending on the voltage required.
The project looks great. The wooden box apparently was a recycle item and the brass hardware makes it look like it belongs with the old radios it powers. This is a good example of how there’s more to vintage restoration than just the electronics. Sure, the function is important, but to really enjoy the old gear, the presentation is important, too.
Not all tube radios took 90V B+, but since this battery has taps, that isn’t a problem. The old Radio Shack P-Box kit took 22.5V. Of course, if you are going to build your own battery, maybe you ought to build your own triodes, too.
The humble incandescent lightbulb is an invention just about anyone born in the 20th Century is more than familiar with. But it’s not the be all and end all of lighting technology – there are neon lights, compact fluorescent bulbs, and even LEDs are finally being adopted for interior lighting. But with the endless march forward, there are vintage throwbacks to the past – how many hipster cafes have you been to lately with great big industrial-looking filament bulbs hanging from the ceiling?
However, that’s not all history has to give us. These gas discharge bulbs from yesteryear are absolute works of art.
The bulbs contain delicate floral sculptures in metal, coated with phosphor, and the bulbs are filled with neon or argon gas. Applying mains voltage to the electrodes inside the bulb causes the phospor to fluoresce, creating a glowing flower that is hauntingly beautiful.
These bulbs were manufactured by the Aerolux Light Company, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Once upon a time, they could be had for as little as 20 cents a bulb – nowadays you’re likely to pay over $50 on eBay or Etsy. The bulbs work by the glow discharge effect, not at all dissimilar to garden variety neon lamps.
While it’s not easy, it is possible to make your own vacuum tubes. Maybe it’s time to order some phospor powder and a tank of neon and get to work? Be sure to document your attempt on Hackaday.io.