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!

Rebuilding dried out capacitors

If you’ve ever torn into very old equipment for a little refurbishment, you’ve seen ancient capacitors among tube sockets and carbon resistors. These caps are long past their life expectancy and are dried out. Putting a brand-new metal can cap in a piece of equipment from the 40s just seems wrong, though. Luckily, [unixslave] posted a nice cap rebuilding tutorial on the Hack a Day forum.

To get inside, [unixslave] melted the resin and wax plug at the base of an old cap with a soldering iron. After cleaning out 70-year-old goo with the tip of a flathead screwdriver, he drilled a hole through the core of the cap.

[unixslave] took the old wax-pressed tube of the old cap and put some modern electrolytics inside. The result reminds us of a shady practice happening in a cap factory somewhere, but [unixslave] is keeping everything on the level. The repaired cap has the same value as what’s on the label, just enough to get that old tube amp working.

Vintage phone has a dirty Android secret

android_based_vintage_phone

Instructables user [apple_fan] likes vintage telephones from the early 1900s, but while they are nice to look at, they’re clearly not too useful nowadays. He decided to change that, and retrofitted an old operator-dialed telephone with some modern amenities.

He gutted the phone, stripping out the large electromagnets and capacitor that were once used to facilitate placing and receiving calls. He added an Archos 28 tablet to the box, wiring it an IOIO board, allowing him to interface it with his Android phone. The old microphone and speaker were swapped out for updated components, and a new ringer actuator was built to replace the bulky old unit. The tablet and ringer, along with the rest of the components were then carefully hidden away inside the box as not to alter the aesthetics.

To place and receive calls, he installed CMU Sphinx on the Archos tablet, allowing him to interact with the phone using voice recognition, as if he was talking to a live operator.

It’s a pretty neat project, and while we might have opted for a small micro combined with a Bluetooth headset, [apple_fan] makes it clear why he made the hardware decisions he did. We’re always up for letting people show us a different way to get a job done, so we’re down with that.

Check out a short video demo of the phone in action after the jump.

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Adding wireless controls to vintage stereo equipment

marantz_wifi_remote_control

[Jean] was shopping around for a vintage stereo receiver, and happened upon a broken, but repairable Marantz 4240. After getting things back to working order, he thought it would be great if he could use his iPhone to remotely control the unit (PDF Writeup, Schematics and Code).

He scrounged around for parts, and after locating a PIC and a handful of parts from old copiers and printers, he got down to business. He etched some custom boards to house electronic bits, then strapped motors to the volume and source selection knobs. He also rigged up the push button power switch on the receiver, using a small servo and a bit of string.

Now, he can control everything using his iPhone, which communicates with the stereo over WiFi. While the power, volume knob, and input selector can be triggered remotely, he still has the ability to tweak any of these items manually if desired.

We think that this is a great way to add modern amenities to vintage electronics, without ruining the aesthetics of the components. Don’t take our word for it though, check out the video demonstrations [Jean] but together after the jump.

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Hacking your NES/Famicom console for better video and audio

famicom_playchoice_ppu_mod

[Dominic] wrote in to share a pretty neat Famicom console mod that improves both the video and audio output of the system. While some of you may be familiar with the PlayChoice 10, we’re guessing that many of you are not. The PlayChoice 10 was an arcade-style machine that allowed you to play up to 10 different NES games. The system’s hardware was quite similar to the Famicom/NES consoles, but the graphics and sound performance was superior to either console.

[Dominic] decided to tweak his Famicom system, and ended up replacing its native Picture Processing Unit (PPU) with one from a PlayChoice 10. This allows the console to output RGB video natively, resulting in a crisper picture with brighter coloring. He didn’t stop there however. His Famicom system also sports an upgraded audio circuit that boasts psuedo-stereo sound as well as increased bass response and better overall audio clarity.

The console looks nearly stock, and performs quite well according to [Dominic]. Be sure to check out the video comparison embedded below to see how the modifications improved his system’s performance.

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Help identify this vintage electronics component

mystery_board

[Windell] over at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories has reached out in order to help them identify a mystery piece of electronics equipment they came across a few years ago. Discovered at an electronics surplus store, the mystery component looks like a cross between an over-sized chess board and a breadboard. Failing to identify it they eventually disposed of the board, snapping a couple of pictures for good measure before it was gone for good.

Recently while visiting a local electronics flea market, they came across what looked to be a similar, though much smaller board. This piqued their curiosity and compelled them to dig out the pictures of the mystery board in hopes of finally discovering what it was. Using markings on the new board they found, the team at EMSL located some images of a patchboard cartridge that looked quite similar to their mystery object. Upon closer inspection however, they think that the two pieces might be related, but are not quite the same item.

Swing by their site and chime in if you happen to have any good leads – we’re sure they will appreciate it.

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