For American readers of a certain age, Local on the 8s likely holds a special spot in your heart. The program, once a staple of The Weather Channel, would provide viewers with a text and eventually graphical depiction of their local forecast set to some of the greatest smooth jazz ever heard outside of an elevator. In the days before smartphones, or even regular Internet access for that matter, these broadcasts were a critical part of planning your day in the 1980s through to the early 2000s.
Up until recently the technical details behind these iconic weather reports were largely unknown, but thanks to the Herculean efforts of [techknight], the fascinating engineering that went into the WeatherSTAR 4000 machines that pumped out current conditions and Shakin’ The Shack from CATV distribution centers all over the US for decades is now being documented and preserved. The process of reversing the hardware and software has actually been going on for the last couple of years, but all those juicy details are now finally going to be available on the project’s Hackaday.IO page.
It all started around Christmas of 2018, when an eBay alert [techknight] had configured for the WeatherSTAR 4000 finally fired off. His offer was accepted, and soon he had the physical manifestation of Local on the 8s in his own hands. He’d reasoned that getting the Motorola MC68010 machine working would be like poking around in a retrocomputer, but it didn’t take long for him to realize he’d gotten himself into a much larger project than he could ever have imagined.
Continue reading “Reverse Engineering The Weather Channel’s Magic”
This may surprise younger readers, but there was once a time when the reality programming on The Weather Channel was simply, you know, weather. It used to be no more than a ten-minute wait to “Local on the Eights”, with simple text crawls of local conditions and forecasts that looked like they were taken straight from the National Weather Service feed. Those were the days, and sadly they seem to be gone forever.
Or perhaps not, if this retro weather channel feed has anything to say about it. It’s the product of [probnot] and consists of a simple Python program that runs on a Raspberry Pi. Being from Winnipeg, [probnot] is tapping into Environment Canada for local weather data, but it should be easy enough to modify to use your local weather provider’s API. The screen is full of retro goodness, from the simple color scheme to the blocky white text; the digital clock and local news crawl at the bottom complete the old school experience. It doesn’t appear that the code supports the period-correct smooth jazz saxophone, but that too should be a simple modification.
All jibing aside, this would be a welcome addition to the morning routine. And for the full retro ride, why not consider putting it in an old TV case?
Continue reading “Relive The Glory Days Of Cable TV With This Retro Weather Feed”
Recently I spent an enjoyable weekend in Canterbury, staying in my friend’s flat with a superb view across the rooftops to the city’s mediaeval cathedral. Bleary-eyed and in search of a coffee on the Sunday morning, my attention was immediately drawn to one of her abode’s original built-in features. There on the wall in the corner of the room was a mysterious switch.
Housed on a standard-sized British electrical fascia was a 12-position rotary switch, marked with letters A through L. An unexpected thing to see in the 21st century and one probably unfamiliar to most people under about 40, I’d found something I’d not seen since my university days in the early 1990s: a Rediffusion selector switch.
If you have cable TV, there is probably a co-axial cable coming into your home. It is likely to carry a VHF signal, either a series of traditional analogue channels or a set of digital multiplexes. “Cable ready” analogue TVs had wideband VHF tuners to allow the channels to be viewed, and on encrypted systems there would have been a set-top box with its own analogue tuner and decoder circuitry.
Your digital cable TV set-top box will do a similar thing, giving you the channels you have subscribed to as it decodes the multiplex. At the dawn of television transmission though, none of this would have been possible. Co-axial cable was expensive and not particularly high quality, and transistorised wideband VHF tuners were still a very long way away. Engineers designing the earliest cable TV systems were left with the technology of the day derived from that of the telephone networks, and in Britain at least that manifested itself in the Rediffusion system whose relics I’d found.
Continue reading “Rediffusion Television: Early Cable TV Delivered Like Telephone”