Hang up your car phone and toss that fax machine in the garbage. Even back in the late 80s it was possible to do away with these primitive technologies in favor of video conferencing, even though this technology didn’t catch on en masse until recently. In fact, Mitsubishi released a piece of video conferencing equipment called the VisiTel that can be put to use today, provided you can do a bit of work to get it to play along nicely with modern technology.
[Alex] was lucky enough to have one of these on hand, as soon as it was powered up he was able to get to work deciphering the messaging protocol of the device. To do this he showed the camera certain pictures with known properties and measured the output waveforms coming from the device, which were AM modulated over an RJ9 connection which he had changed to a 3.5 mm headphone jack.
It communicates in a series of pictures instead of sending an actual video signal, so [Alex] had a lot of work to do to properly encode and decode the stream. He goes into incredible detail on his project page about this process and is worth a read for anyone interested in signal processing. Ultimately, [Alex] was able to patch this classic piece of technology into a Zoom call and the picture quality is excellent when viewed through the lens of $399 80s technology.
We have been seeing a lot of other hacks around video conferencing in the past six months as well, such as physical mute buttons and a mirror that improves eye contact through the webcam.
As the pace of technology charges blindly forward, a lot of older tools or products get left in the dust, forgotten to most but those left with them. This doesn’t mean they’re useless, though. In fact, old technology that continues to survive in the present tends to be more robust and sturdy than most modern, cheap replacements. While this might be survivorship bias, this is certainly true in particular of oscilloscopes. Rugged CRTs in large metal housings with discrete through-hole components in simple layouts made them reliable, but they’re heavy, bulky, and lack features of modern instruments. With some modifications, though, you can give them a new home and keep their vintage aesthetic.
[BuildComics] had just such an oscilloscope on hand and set out to make it into something useful but aesthetically pleasing as well. With a small circuit board, formerly available as a kit from Sparkfun/Dutchtronix but now only available if you can build them yourself, the cathode ray tube can be modified to output not waveforms but rather a working clock face. The donor oscilloscope was a Heathkit IO-102 which was fine for its time but is now lacking, so the CRT was removed from its housing and placed in a custom-built enclosure with a 40s radio style that suits its new purpose well.
Seeing old hardware that is past its prime being put to work in a new way is great, both from a technical standpoint and also because that’s usable hardware that’s being kept out of the landfill. Oscilloscopes are popular for projects like these too since they are relatively easy to understand and modify. Besides being used as clocks, we’ve also seen them modified to play video games such as Pac-Man.
Flash storage was a pretty big deal back in the mid ’00s, although the storage sizes that were available at the time seem laughable by today’s standards. For example, having an iPod that didn’t have a spinning, unreliable hard drive was huge even if the size was measured in single-digit gigabytes, since iPods tended to not be treated with the same amount of care as something like a laptop. Sadly, these small iPods aren’t available anymore, and if you want one with more than 8GB of storage you’ll have to upgrade an old one yourself.
This build comes to us from [Hugo] who made the painstaking effort of removing the old NAND flash storage chip from an iPod Nano by hand, soldering 0.15mm enameled magnet wire to an 0.5mm pitch footprint to attach a breakout board. Once the delicate work was done, he set about trying to figure out the software. In theory the iPod should have a maximum addressable space of 64 GB but trying to get custom firmware on this specific iPod is more of a challenge and the drives don’t simply plug-and-play. He is currently using the rig for testing a new 8GB and new 16GB chip though but it shows promise and hopefully he’ll be able to expand to that maximum drive size soon.
The build is really worth a look if you’re into breathing new life into old media players. Sometimes, though all these old iPods really need to get working again is just to be thrown into a refrigerator, as some genius engineer showed us many years ago.
Join us on Wednesday, July 15 at noon Pacific for the Back to Basics Hack Chat with Simplifier!
Stay in the technology business long enough and eventually you’ll have to face an uncomfortable question: “Have I built anything permanent?” Chances are good that most of us will have to answer in the negative. For all the flash and zazzle we put into our projects, and for all the craftsmanship we try to apply to our systems, all of it is built on a very fragile foundation of silicon that will be obsolete within a decade, held together by slender threads of code in a language that may or may not be in fashion in a year’s time, and doesn’t even really exist in anything more tangible than a series of magnetic domains on a hard drive somewhere.
Realizing you’ve built nothing permanent is the engineer’s equivalent of a midlife crisis, and for many of us it sets off a search for an outlet for our creativity that we can use to make things that will outlast us. One hacker, known only as “Simplifier”, turned his search for meaningful expression into a quest to make technology better by making it more accessible and understandable. His website, itself a model of simplicity, catalogs his quest for useful materials and methods and his efforts to employ them. He has built everything from homebrew vacuum tubes to DIY solar cells, with recent forays into telecom tech with his carbon rod microphone and magnetostrictive earphone.
In this Hack Chat, Simplifier will answer your questions about how turning back the technology clock can teach us about where we’re going. Join us as we explore what it takes to build the infrastructure we all take so much for granted, and find out if there’s a way to live simply while still enjoying a technologically rich life.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 15 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
Continue reading “Back To Basics Hack Chat”
While it’s nice to be able to fully restore something vintage to its original glory, this is not always possible. There might not be replacement parts available, the economics of restoring it may not make sense, or the damage to parts of it might be too severe. [onyxmember] aka [Minimember Customs] was in this position with an old ’54 Puch Allstate motorcycle frame that he found with no engine, rusty fuel tank, and some other problems, so he did the next best thing to a full restoration. He converted it to electric.
This build uses as much of the original motorcycle frame as possible and [onyxmember] made the choice not to weld anything extra to it. The fuel tank was cut open and as much rust was cleaned from it as possible to make room for the motor controller and other electronics. A hub motor was laced to the rear wheel, and a modern horn and headlight were retrofitted into the original headlight casing. Besides the switches, throttle, and voltmeter, everything else looks original except, of course, the enormous 72V battery hanging off the frame where the engine used to be.
At a power consumption of somewhere between three and five kilowatts, [onyxmember] reports that this bike likely gets somewhere in the range of 55 mph, although he can’t know for sure because it doesn’t have a speedometer. It’s the best use of an old motorcycle frame we can think of, and we also like the ratrod look, but you don’t necessarily need to modify a classic bike for this. A regular dirt bike frame will do just fine.
Continue reading “’54 Motorcycle Saved By Electric Conversion”
Say what you will about the centrally planned economies of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, but their designs had a brutal style all their own. When one comes across an artifact from that time, like a defunct Polish Geiger counter from 1971, one celebrates that style the only way possible: by sticking Nixies tubes on it and making it into a Geiger clock.
Right off the hop, we’ve got to say that we’re in love with the look of [Tom Sparrow]’s build. And we’ll further stipulate that most of the charm comes from the attractive Bakelite case of the original Geiger counter. This looks like the real deal, with the marbleized look presumably caused by different color resins mixing in the mold. [Tom] did an admirable job bringing back the original shine with some polish and elbow grease; no doubt the decades had taken their toll on the original shine. The meter was gutted to make room for the clockworks, which is an off-the-shelf Nixie module. The tubes stick through holes drilled in the top; a pair of LEDs adorn the front panel and an incandescent bulb provides a warm glow behind the original meter. Combined with the original rotary switch and labels, the whole thing has a great look that’s perfect for a desk.
We’ve featured a lot of retro-classic Nixie builds, from digitizing a 1940s radio to a 1970s multimeter turned into a dice-roller. As for Nixie clocks, we’re just glad to take a break from the Nixie steampunk trend for a bit.
[via Dangerous Prototypes]
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”