Retrotechtacular: How Not To Use Hand Tools

Whatever you’re doing with your hand tools, by the US Army’s lights, you’re probably doing it wrong. That seems to be the “Green Machine’s” attitude on pliers and screwdrivers, at least, the main stars of this 1943 War Department training film on the horrors of tool abuse.

As kitschy as the film might be, they weren’t wrong. That’s especially true about the dreaded slip-joint pliers, which seem to find their way onto everyone’s list of unloved tools and are shown being used for their true purpose — turning nuts and bolt heads from hexagons into circles. Once that gore is wrapped up, we’re treated to the proper uses of pliers, including the fascinating Bernard-style parallel jaw pliers. We can recall these beauties kicking around the bottom of Dad’s tool kit and being entranced by the mechanism used to keep the jaws parallel and amplify the force applied. Sadly, those pliers are long gone now; Tubalcain did a great review of these pliers a few years back if you need a refresher.

A selection of screwdrivers gets the same treatment, complete with dire warnings against using them as prybars and chisels. Also against the Army Way is using the wrong size screwdriver for the job, lest you strip the head of the screw or break the tool itself. It has to be said that the Plomb Tool Company of Los Angeles, which produced the film, made some fantastic-looking screwdrivers back in the day. The square shanks on some of those straight screwdrivers are enormous, and the wooden handles look so much more comfortable than the greebled-up plastic nonsense manufacturers seem to favor these days. Also interesting is the reference to the new-fangled Phillips screw, not to mention the appearance of a Yankee-style spiral ratcheting screwdriver, another of Dad’s prized acquisitions that thankfully is still around to this day.

What strikes us about these military training films is how many of them were produced. No subject seemed too mundane to get a training film made about it, and so many were made that one is left wondering how there was any time left for soldiering after watching all these films. But really, it’s not much different today, when we routinely pull up a random YouTube video to get a quick visual demo of how to do something we’ve never tried before. The medium may have changed, but visual learning is still a thing.

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Computer Gear With — Um — Gears

Analog computers have been around in some form for a very long time. One very obvious place they were used was in military vehicles. While submarine fire computers and the Norden bombsight get all the press, [msylvain59] has a lesser-known example: an M13A1 ballistic computer from an M48 tank that he tears down for us in the video below.

The M48, known as a Patton, saw service from 1952 to 1987. Just looking at the mechanical linkage to the tank’s systems is impressive. But inside, it is clear this is a genuinely analog computer. The thing is built — quite literally — like a tank. What was the last computer you opened that needed a hammer? And inside, you’ll find gears, bearings, and a chain!

We don’t pretend to understand all the workings. These devices often used gears and synchros (or selsyns, if you prefer) to track the position of some external thing. But we are guessing there was a lot more to it than that. It’s probably an exciting process to see something like that designed from scratch.

We did think of the Norden when we saw this. Hard to imagine, but there were “general purpose” analog computers.

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China Plans Its Own Megaconstellation To Challenge Starlink

Satellite internet used to be a woeful thing. Early networks relied on satellites in geostationary orbits, with high latency and minimal bandwidth keeping user demand low. That was until Starlink came along, and provided high-speed, low-latency internet access using a fleet of thousands of satellites in Low Earth orbit.

Starlink has already ruffled feathers due to concerns around light pollution and space junk in particular. Now, it appears that China may be readying its own competing constellation to avoid being crowded out of low orbits by the increasingly-popular service.

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Mark Your Calendars, NASA Is Holding A Public Meeting On UFOs

We’re sorry, the politically correct term these days is “unidentified anomalous phenomena” (UAP), as it’s less likely to excite those with a predilection for tinfoil hats. But whether you call them flying objects or anomalous phenomena, it’s that unidentified part that has us interested.

Which is why we’ll be tuned into NASA TV at 10:30 a.m. EDT on May 31 — that’s when the agency has announced they’ll be broadcasting a meeting of an independent study team tasked with categorizing and evaluating UAP data. The public can even submit their own questions, the most popular of which will be passed on to the team.

Before you get too excited, the meeting is about how NASA can “evaluate and study UAP by using data, technology, and the tools of science”, and the press release explains that they won’t be reviewing or assessing any unidentifiable observations. So if you’re hoping for the US government’s tacit acknowledgment that we’re not alone in the universe, you’ll probably be disappointed. That said, they wouldn’t have to assemble a team to study these reports if they were all so easily dismissed. As always, interstellar visitors are dead last on the list of possible explanations, but some cases have too much hard evidence to be dismissed out of hand. They might not be little green men, but they are something.

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Cold War Military Telephones Now Usable Thanks To DIY Switch Build

The TA-1042 is the most badass looking telephone you’ll ever see. It’s a digital military telephone from the 1980s, but sadly non-functional unless it’s hooked up to the military phone switches it was designed to work with. These days, they’re really only useful as a heavy object to throw at somebody… that is, unless you had the suitable supporting hardware. As it turns out, [Nick] and [Rob] were able to whip up exactly that.

Their project involved implementing the TA-1042’s proprietary switching protocol on a Raspberry Pi Pico. The microcontroller’s unique Programmable I/O subsystem proved perfect for the task. With a little programming and a hat for the Pico to interface with the hardware, they were able to get the TA-1042 working as intended. It involved learning how to encode and decode the Manchester encoded data used by the Digital Non-secure Voice Terminal equipment.¬†Notably, the TA-1042 isn’t the only phone you can use with this setup. You can also hook up other US military DNVT phones, like the TA-954 or TA-1035.

If you want this hardware for yourself, you can simply buy one of [Nick] and [Rob]’s DNVT switches from Tindie. Alternatively, you can roll your own with the source code provided on GitHub.

We’ve seen these phones before repurposed in an altogether different fashion. We’ve also taken a deep dive into the details of the military’s AUTOVON network.

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German Air Force Surplus Teardown

It isn’t clear to us how [mrsylvain59] came into possession of a late-model piece of military gear from the German airforce, but we enjoyed watching the teardown below anyway. According to the documentation, the thing has a huge price tag, although we all know that the military usually pays top dollar for various reasons, so we are guessing the cost of the parts is quite a bit less than the price tag.

We don’t think [mrsylvain59] was sure what the amplifier (verst√§rker is German for amplifier) does. However, we recognized it as an avionics box from a UH-1 helicopter. We aren’t sure of its exact function, but it is classified under “Automatic Pilot Mechanisms and Airborne Gyro Components.”

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The TAK Ecosystem: Military Coordination Goes Open Source

In recent years you’ve probably seen a couple of photos of tablets and smartphones strapped to the armor of soldiers, especially US Special Forces. The primary app loaded on most of those devices is ATAK or Android Tactical Assault Kit. It allows the soldier to view and share geospatial information, like friendly and enemy positions, danger areas, casualties, etc. As a way of working with geospatial information, its civilian applications became apparent, such as firefighting and law-enforcement, so CivTAK/ATAK-Civ was created and open sourced in 2020. Since ATAK-Civ was intended for those not carrying military-issued weapons, the acronym magically become the Android Team Awareness Kit. This caught the attention of the open source community, so today we’ll dive into the growing TAK ecosystem, its quirks, and potential use cases.

Tracking firefighting aircraft in 3D space using ADS-B (Credit: The TAK Syndicate)

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