Digital To Analog In The Darkroom

As the world becomes more and more digital, there are still a few holdouts from the analog world we’ve left behind. Vinyl records are making quite the comeback, and film photography is still hanging on as well. While records and a turntable have a low barrier for entry, photography is a little more involved, especially when developing the film. But with the right kind of equipment you can bridge the gap from digital to analog with a darkroom setup that takes digital photographs and converts them to analog prints.

The project’s creator, [Muth], has been working on this project since he found a 4K monochrome display. These displays are often used in resin 3D printers, but he thought he could put them to use developing photographs. This is much different from traditional darkroom methods, though. The monochrome display is put into contact with photo-sensitive paper, and then exposed to light. Black pixels will block the light while white pixels allow it through, creating a digital-to-analog negative of sorts. With some calibration done to know exactly how long to expose each “pixel” of the paper, the device can create black-and-white analog images from a digital photograph.

[Muth] notes that this method isn’t quite as good as professional print, but we wouldn’t expect it to be. It creates excellent black-and-white prints with a unique method that we think generates striking results. The 4K displays needed to reproduce this method aren’t too hard to find, either, so it’s fairly accessible to those willing to build a small darkroom to experiment. For those willing to go further, take a look at some other darkroom builds we’ve seen in the past.

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Dial Into The Internet Like It’s 1999

Restoring classic hardware of any sort is a great hobby to have, whether it’s restoring vintage cars, tools, or even antique Apple or Commodore computers. Understanding older equipment can help improve one’s understanding of the typically more complicated modern equivalents, plus it’s just plain fun to get something old up and running again. Certainly we see more retro computing restorations around here, but one thing that we don’t typically see much of is the networking equipment that would have gotten those older computers onto the early Internet. [Retrocet] has a strong interest in that area, and his latest dial-up server really makes us feel like we’re back in the 90s.

This home networking lab is built around a Cobalt Qube 2 that was restored after it was gifted to him as a wedding present. The Qube had a cutting edge 250 MHz 64-bit processor with up to 256 MB of RAM, and shipped with a customized Linux distribution as an operating system. The latest upgrade to this build sped up the modems to work at their full 56k rates which involved the addition of a DIVA T/A ISDN terminal and some additional hardware which ensures that incoming calls to the modems are digital. Keeping the connections digital instead of analog keeps the modems from lowering their speed to 33k to handle the conversions.

Until recently, [Retrocet] was running some of the software needed for this setup in a custom virtual machine, but thanks to the full restoration of the Qube and some tweaking of the Red Hat Linux install to improve the Point-to-Point Protocol capabilities of the older system, everything is now running on the antique hardware. If you are like [Retrocet] and have a bunch of this older hardware sitting around, there are still some ISPs available that can provide you with some service.

akurobatto clock

Unique Clock Is All Hands, No Dial, And Does The Worm

Back in the old days, we didn’t have fancy digital clocks. No, we had good analog clocks with a big hand and a little hand, and if you wanted to know the time you had to look at the clock and figure out which number each hand was pointing at, or kind of pointing at. It wasn’t easy, and we liked it that way.

So now, along comes an analog clock that’s nothing but the hands — no dial, no numbers, just hands. How is such a thing possible? The clue is in the clock’s name: AKUROBATTO, and in the video below, which shows the acrobatic movements of the clock’s hands as it does its thing. Serial improbable-clock maker [ekaggrat singh kalsi] clearly put a lot of thought into this mechanism, which consists of the hands and a separate base. The hands are joined together at one end and powered by small stepper motors. The base has two docking areas, where servo-driven claws can grasp the hand assembly, either at the center pivot or at the tip of either hand. With a little bit of shuffling around at transition points, the hands sweep out the hours and minutes in a surprisingly readable way.

For as cool as the design of AKUROBATTO is, the internals are really something else. There are custom-built slip rings to send power to the motors and the Arduinos controlling them, sensors to determine the position of each hand, and custom gearboxes for the steppers. And the locking mechanisms on the base are worth studying too — getting that right couldn’t have been easy.

All in all, an impressive build. Whether displaying the time on a phosphorescent screen or a field of sequins, it seems like [ekaggrat] has a thing for unique clocks. Continue reading “Unique Clock Is All Hands, No Dial, And Does The Worm”

Tiny TV Celebrates The Forgotten Tech Of CRTs

For those of us who grew up before the Internet, the center of pretty much every house was the TV. It was the shrine before which we all worshipped, gathering together at the appointed times to receive the shared wisdom of mass entertainment. In retrospect, it really wasn’t that much. But it’s what we had.

Content aside, one thing all these glowing boxes had in common was that which did the glowing — the cathode ray tube (CRT). Celebrating the marvel of engineering that the CRT represents is the idea behind [Matt Evan]’s tiny desktop TV. The design centers around a 1.5″ CRT that once served as a viewfinder on a 1980s-vintage Sony camcorder. [Matt] salvaged the tube and the two PCB assemblies that drive it, mounting everything in a custom-built acrylic case, the better to show off the bulky but beautiful tube.

The viewfinder originally used a mirror to make the optical path more compact; this forced [Matt] to adapt the circuit to un-reverse the image for direct viewing. Rather than receiving analog signals off the air as we did in the old days — and we liked it that way! — the mini monitor gets its video from a Raspberry Pi, which is set to play clips of TV shows from [Matt]’s youth. Rendered in glorious black and white and nearly needing a magnifying glass to see, it almost recaptures the very earliest days of television broadcasting, when TVs all had screens that looked more like oscilloscope CRTs.

This project is a nice homage to a dying technology, and [Matt] says it has spurred more than one conversation from people you grew up knowing only LCD displays. That’s not to say CRTs are totally dead — if you want to build your own old-school TV, there’s a kit for that.

A bird-shaped yellow PCB with legs wound out of wire, perched on its creator's arm. The bird has a lot of through-hole components on it, as well as an assortment of different-colored LEDs.

Printed Circuit Bird Family Calls For Us To Consider Analog

On our favourite low-attention-span content site, [Kelly Heaton] has recently started sharing a series of “Printed Circuit Birds”. These are PCBs shaped like birds, looking like birds and chirping like birds – and they are fully analog! The sound is produced by a network of oscillators feeding into each other, and, once tuned, is hardly distinguishable from the bird songs you might hear outside your window. Care and love was put into making this bird life-like – it perches on Kelly’s arm with legs woven out of single-strand wire and talons made out of THT resistors, in the exact same way you would expect a regular bird to sit on your arm – that is, if you ever get lucky enough. It’s not just one bird – there’s a family of circuit animals, including a goose, a crow and even a cricket.

Why did these animals came to life – metaphorically, but also, literally? There must be more to a non-ordinary project like this, and we asked Kelly about it. These birds are part of her project to explore models of consciousness in ways that we typically don’t employ. Our habit is to approach complex problems in digital domains, but we tend to miss out on elegance and simplicity that analog circuits are capable of. After all, even our conventional understanding of a neural network is a matrix of analog coefficients that we then tune, a primitive imitation of how we assume human brains to work – and it’s this “analog” approach that has lately moved us ever so closer to reproducing “intelligence” in a computer.

Kelly’s work takes a concept that would have many of us get the digital toolkit, and makes it wonderfully life-like using a small bouquet of simple parts. It’s a challenge to our beliefs and approaches, compelling in its grace, urging us to consider and respect analog circuits more when it comes to modelling consciousness and behaviours. If it’s this simple to model sounds and behaviour of a biological organism, a task that’d have us writing DSP and math code to replicate on a microcontroller – what else are we missing from our models?

Kelly has more PCBs to arrive soon in preparation for her NYC exhibit in February, and will surely be posting updates on her Twitter page! We’ve covered her work before, and if you haven’t seen it yet, her Supercon 2019 talk on Electronic Naturalism would be a great place to start! Such projects tend to inspire fellow hackers to build other non-conventional projects, and this chirping pendant follows closely in Kelly’s footsteps! The direction of this venture reminds us a lot of BEAM robotics, which we’ve recently reminisced upon as something that’s impacted generations of hackers to look at electronics we create through an entirely different lens.

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Dirty faders.

Giving Vintage Synths New Life In A Potentiometer Cleaning Showdown

As anyone who has ever owned a piece of older equipment that has a potentiometer in it can attest to, these mechanical components do need their regular cleaning ritual. Whether it’s volume knobs on a receiver or faders on a mixer, over time they get crackly, scratchy and generally imprecise due to the oxidation and gunk that tends to gather inside them.

This is your potentiometer caked with gunk.
This is your potentiometer caked with gunk.

In this blast from the past, [Keith Murray] shows a few ways in which fader-style potentiometers can be cleaned, and how well each cleaning method works by testing the smoothness of the transition over time with an oscilloscope. It’s enlightening to see just how terrible the performance of a grimed-up fader is, and how little a blast of compressed air helped. Contact cleaner works much better, but it’s essential to get all of the loosened bits of gunk out of the fader regardless.

In the end, a soak in isopropyl alcohol (IPA), as well as a full disassembly followed by manual cleaning were the only ones to get the fader performance back to that of a new one. Using contact cleaner followed by blasting the fader out with compressed air seems to be an acceptable trade-off to avoid disassembly, however.

What is your preferred way to clean potentiometers to keep that vintage (audio) gear in peak condition? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks, [Grant Freese], for the tip!

The Eerie Sounds Of Ioalieia: An ESP32/Valve/Analog Hybrid Circuit Sculpture

We’ve not had a circuit sculpture piece for a while, so here’s “ioalieia” a lovely hybrid digital-analog sound sculpture by [Eirik Brandal] to dig into.

Tidy straight lines. Nice job!

The host of the show is the ESP32 module, which generates audio frequency square waves, which are fed into a MCP4251 digital potentiometer. From there, it is fed into a AS3320 Voltage controlled filter (VCF), from Latvia-based ALFA (which is new to us, despite them being manufacturing electronics for sixty years!) This is an interesting device that has a four independently configurable filter elements with voltage controlled inputs for frequency control and resonance. The output from the VCF is then fed into a 6n2p (Soviet equivalent to the 12ax7) twin-triode vacuum tube, which is specifically aimed at audio applications.

The suitably distorted filtered square waves then pass into a Princeton Tech Corp PT2399 echo processor chip, which being digitally constructed, uses the expected ADC/RAM/DAC signal chain to implement an audio echo effect. As with the VCF, the echo depth can be modulated via the digipot, under the ESP32’s command. For a bit of added bling, the vacuum tube output feeds back into the ESP32, to be consumed by the internal ADC and turned into a light show via some PWM controlled LEDs. Lovely.

The final audio output from the echo chip is then fed into a speaker via a pair of LM380 amplifiers giving a power of about 5 W. It sounds pretty good if you ask us, and software configurable via Wi-Fi, giving this sculpture plenty of tweakabilty.

Of course circuit sculpture come in all shapes and sizes, and it wouldn’t do to not mention at least one sculpture clock project, and while we’re on it, here’s last year’s Remoticon circuit sculpture workshop.

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