Automatic Microfiche Scanner Digitizes Docs

While the concept might seem quaint to us today, microfiche was once a very compelling way to store and distribute documents. By optically shrinking them down to just a few percent of their original size, hundreds of pages could be stored on a piece of high-resolution film. A box of said films could store the equivalent of several gigabytes of text and images, and reading them back only required a relatively simple projection machine.

As [Joerg Hoppe] explains in the write-up for his automatic microfiche scanner, companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) made extensive use of this technology to distribute manuals, schematics, and even source code to their service departments in the 70s and 80s. Luckily, that means hard copies of all this valuable information still exist in excellent condition decades after DEC published it. The downside, of course, is that microfiche viewers aren’t exactly something you can pick up at the local Big Box electronics store these days. To make this information accessible to current and future generations, it needs to be digitized.

The camera panning over a full DEC microfiche sheet.

[Joerg] notes there are commercial services that would do this for you, but the prices are just too high to be practical for the hobbyist. The same for turn-key microfiche scanners. Which is why he’s developed this hardware and software system specifically to digitize DEC documents. The user enters in the information written on the top of the microfiche into the software, and then places it onto the machine itself which is based on a cheap 3D printer.

The device moves a Canon DSLR camera and appropriate magnifying optics in two dimensions over the film, using the Z axis to fine-tune the focus, and then commands the camera to take an image of each page. These are then passed through various filters to clean up the image, and compiled into PDFs that can be easily viewed on modern hardware. The digital documents can be further run though optical character recognition (OCR) so the text can be easily searched and manipulated. In the video after the break you can see that the whole process is rather involved, but once the settled into the workflow, [Joerg] says his scanner can digitize 100 pages in around 10 minutes.

A machine like this is invaluable if you’ve got a trove of microfiche documents to get through, but if you’ve just got a sheet or two you’d like to take a peek at, [CuriousMarc] put together a simple rig using a digital microscope and a salvaged light box that should work in a pinch.

Continue reading “Automatic Microfiche Scanner Digitizes Docs”

Building Replica Amigas To Preserve Digital Artwork

A few years back, the Andy Warhol Museum ran into an unusual problem. They wanted to display digital pieces the pop artist created on his Amiga 1000 back in the 1980s, but putting the vintage computers on the floor and letting the public poke around on them wasn’t really an option. So the team at [Iontank] were tasked with creating an interactive display that looked like a real Amiga, but used all modern technology under the hood.

The technical details on the electronics side are unfortunately a bit light, as the page on the [Iontank] site simply says all of the internals were replaced with “solid-state hardware” and an Amiga emulator. To us that sounds like a Raspberry Pi is now filling in for the Amiga’s original motherboard, but that’s just a guess. The page does note that they went through the trouble of making sure the original mouse and keyboard still worked, so it stands to reason a couple microcontrollers are also along for the ride doing translation duty.

Milling the curved display lens.

While we don’t know much about the computers, [Iontank] do provide some interesting insight into developing the faux CRTs sitting atop the non-Amigas. There were some promising rear-projection experiments conducted early on, but in the end, they decided to use a standard LCD behind a milled acrylic lens. This not only made for a perfect fit inside the original monitor enclosures, but gave the screen that convex depth that’s missing on modern flat panels.

The end result looks like the best of both worlds, combining the sharp bright image of an LCD with just a hint of retro distortion. With a scanline generator in the mix, this technique would be a great way to simulate the look of a CRT display in an arcade cabinet, though admittedly being able to mill down an acrylic lens of the appropriate size would be a tough job for most home gamers.

[Thanks to Derek for the tip.]

Digital Preservation For Old Batteries

The times they are a-changin’. It used to be that no household was complete without a drawer filled with an assortment of different sizes and types of batteries, but today more and more of our gadgets are using integrated rechargeable cells. Whether or not that’s necessarily an improvement is probably up for debate, but the fact of the matter is that some of these old batteries are becoming harder to find as time goes on.

Which is why [Stephen Arsenault] wants to preserve as many of them as possible. Not in some kind of physical battery museum (though that does sound like the sort of place we’d like to visit), but digitally in the form of 3D models and spec sheets. The idea being that if you find yourself in need of an oddball, say the PRAM battery for a Macintosh SE/30, you could devise your own stand-in with a printed shell.

The rather brilliantly named Battery Backups project currently takes the form of a Thingiverse Group, which allows other alkaline aficionados to submit their own digitized cells. The cells that [Stephen] has modeled so far include not only the STL files for 3D printing, but the CAD source files in several different flavors so you can import them into your tool of choice.

Like the efforts to digitally preserve vintage input devices, it’s not immediately clear how many others out there are willing to spend their afternoons modeling up antiquated batteries. But then again, we’ve long since learned not to underestimate the obscure interests of the hacker community.