Cardboard Models Trace Design Process Of Vintage Tektronix Miniscopes

There aren’t many brands that inspire the kind of passion and fervency among its customers as Tektronix does. The venerable Oregon-based manufacturer of top-end test equipment has produced more collectible gear over the last 75 years than just about anyone else.

Over that time they have had plenty of innovations, and in the 1970s they started looking into miniaturizing their flagship oscilloscopes. The vintageTEK museum, run by current and former employees, has a review of the design process of the 200 series of portable oscilloscopes that’s really interesting. At a time when scopes were portable in the way a packed suitcase is portable, making a useful instrument in a pocketable form factor was quite a challenge — even for big pockets.

The article goes into great detail on the back-and-forth between the industrial designers, with their endless stream of models, and the engineers who would actually have to stuff a working scope into whatever case they came up with. The models from the museum’s collection are wonderful bits of history and show where the industrial designers really pushed for some innovative designs.

Some of the models are clearly derived from the design of the big bench scopes, but some have innovative flip-down covers and other interesting elements that never made it to production. Most of the models are cardboard, but some were made of aluminum in the machine shop and sport the familiar “Tek blue” livery. But the pièce de résistance of the collection is a working engineering model of what would become the 200-series of miniscopes, a handmade prototype with a tiny round CRT and crudely labeled controls.

The vintageTEK museum sounds like another bucket-list stop for computer and technology history buffs. Tek has been doing things their own way for a long time, and stopping by the museum is sure to be a treat.

Thanks to [Tanner Bass] for the tip.

State Of The Art For Nixies Gets A Boost From Dalibor Farny’s Supersize Prototype

Never one to pass up on a challenge, artisanal Nixie tube maker [Dalibor Farný] has been undertaking what he calls “Project H”, an enormous array of 121 Nixie tubes for an unnamed client. What’s so special about that? Did we mention that each Nixie is about the size of a sandwich plate?

Actually, we did, back in May when we first noted Project H in our weekly links roundup. At that time [Dalibor] had only just accepted the project, knowing that it would require inventing everything about these outsized Nixies from scratch. At 150 mm in diameter, these will be the largest Nixies ever made. The design of the tube is evocative of the old iconoscope tubes from early television history, or perhaps the CRT from an old oscilloscope.

Since May, [Dalibor] has done most of the design work and worked out the bugs in a lot of the internal components. But as the video below shows, he still has some way to go. Everything about his normal construction process had to be scaled up, so many steps, like the chemical treatment of the anode cup, are somewhat awkward. He also discovered that mounting holes in the cathodes were not the correct diameter, requiring some clench-worthy manual corrections. The work at the glassblower’s lathe was as nerve wracking as it was fascinating; every step of the build appears fraught with some kind of peril.

Sadly, this prototype failed to come together — a crack developed in the glass face of the tube. But ever the pro, [Dalibor] took it in stride and will learn from this attempt. Given that he’s reduced the art of the Nixie to practice, we’re confident these big tubes will come together eventually.

Continue reading “State Of The Art For Nixies Gets A Boost From Dalibor Farny’s Supersize Prototype”

Ideas To Prototypes Hack Chat With Nick Bild

Join us on Wednesday, July 29 at noon Pacific for the Ideas to Prototypes Hack Chat with Nick Bild!

For most of us, ideas are easy to come by. Taking a shower can generate half of dozen of them, the bulk of which will be gone before your hair is dry. But a few ideas will stick, and eventually make it onto paper or its electronic equivalent, to be played with and tweaked until it coalesces into a plan. And a plan, if we’re lucky, is what’s needed to put that original idea into action, to bring it to fruition and see just what it can do.

No matter what you’re building, the ability to turn ideas into prototypes is what moves projects forward, and it’s what most of us live for. Seeing something on the bench or the shop floor that was once just a couple of back-of-the-napkin sketches, and before that only an abstract concept in your head, is immensely satisfying.

The path from idea to prototype, however, is not always a smooth one, as Nick Bild can attest. We’ve been covering Nick’s work for a while now, starting with his “nearly practical” breadboard 6502 computer, the Vectron, up to his recent forays into machine learning with ShAIdes, his home-automation controlling AI sunglasses. On the way we’ve seen his machine-learning pitch predictor, dazzle-proof glasses, and even a wardrobe-malfunction preventer.

All of Nick’s stuff is cool, to be sure, but there’s a method to his productivity, and we’ll talk about that and more in this Hack Chat. Join us as we dive into Nick’s projects and find out what he does to turn his ideas into prototypes.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 29 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 “Ideas To Prototypes Hack Chat With Nick Bild”

Machine Builds Rise From The Ashes

I was enchanted by a failed project this week. [Andrew Consroe]’s CNC scroll saw doesn’t work yet, but the emphasis is on the word “yet”. Heck, even when it does work, it might not make sense, but that’s not the point anyway.

cncsaw_thumb.jpg?w=250

A scroll saw table has a vertical reciprocating blade perpendicular to a table, a lot like a band saw but with a shorter blade. You push the wood sheet to be cut into the blade, and because it’s thin, you can twist and turn all sorts of interesting jigsaw-puzzle shapes. [Andrew] automated this with an X-Y gantry and an innovative geared rotating ring, needed to keep the wood fed into the cutting edge of the blade.

It’s a crazy contraption, and a difficult and unique movement planning problem, and watching it move in the video is a joy. But it’s not working either: errors in the motion add up over a cut, and he’s ended up snapping a blade on every piece. And this is version three of the device!

But here comes the inspiration. First, the only reason he’s filming this is to keep a log of how the project looked at this phase — he’s already planning out the next one. Second, this is the soul of learning by doing. You don’t learn anything unless you’re trying something new.

And finally, [Andrew]’s project reminds me of why I love machine builds in the age of rapid prototyping. Blazing through three entirely different machines cost him essentially nothing. Tearing apart version one left him with the same stepper motors, aluminum extrusions, and electronics as when he started out. Except that he now knew so much more about his particular problem space. Now he’s ready to go again.

So if you’re at all robotically inclined, but you’re looking at the cost of motors, belts, bearings, and steel, don’t think of it as an expense for this project, but for years’ worth of iterations, and maybe even fully different machines.

Just be sure to take [Andrew]’s lead and get it down and documented before you take it apart! Heck, send it in to Hackaday and it’ll live forever.

Is It A Toy? A Prototype? It’s A Hack!

Some of the coolest hacks do a lot with a little. I was just re-watching a video from [Homo Faciens], who after building a surprisingly capable CNC machine out of junk-bin parts and a ton of ingenuity, was accidentally challenged by Hackaday’s own [Dan Maloney] to take it a step further. [Dan] was only joking when he asked “Can anyone build a CNC machine out of cardboard and paperclips?”, but then [Homo Faciens] replied: cardboard and paperclip CNC plotter. Bam!

My favorite part of the cardboard project is not just the clever “encoder wheel” made of a bolt dipped in epoxy, with enough scraped off that it contacts a paperclip once per rotation. Nor was it the fairly sophisticated adjustable slides and ways that he built to mimic the functionality of the real deal. Nope.

My favorite part of this project is [Norbert] explaining that the machine has backlash here, and it’s got play there, due to frame flex. It is a positive feature of the machine. The same flaws that a full-metal machine would have are all present here, but due to the cheesy construction materials, you can see them with the naked eye instead of requiring a dial indicator. Because it wiggles visible tenths of an inch where a professional mill would wiggle invisible thousandths, that helps you build up intuition for the system.

This device isn’t a “prototype” because there’s no way [Norbert] intends it for serious use. But it surely isn’t just a “toy” either. “Instructional model” makes it sound like a teaching aid, created by a know-it-all master, intended to be consumed by students. If anything, there’s a real sense of exploration, improvisation, and straight-up hacking in this project. I’m sure [Norbert] learned as much from the challenge as we did from watching him tackle it. And it also captures the essence of hacking: doing something unexpected with tech.

Surprise us!

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Flexible Build Platforms Work For FDM, How About SLA?

Flexible steel sheets as the foundation for build platforms are used to great advantage in FDM 3D printers. These coated sheets are held flat by magnets during printing, and after printing is done the sheet (with print attached) can be removed and flexed to pop the prints free. This got [Jan Mrázek] thinking. He was pretty sure the concept could extend to the build platform on his Elegoo Mars resin printer. With a flexible build platform, troublesome prints could be more easily removed, so he non-destructively modified his printer to have a similar system. [Jan] is clear that this is only a proof of concept, but the test results were good! He printed several jobs that were known to be trouble, and they were all a piece of cake to remove.

[Jan]’s mod consists of a 3D printed, two-piece unit that encapsulates the normal build platform and contains a few strong magnets. A thin sheet of steel sticks flat to this new piece, held in place by the magnets within, and becomes the new build platform. After a print is done, the sheet is removed and [Jan] reports that its flexibility is a big help in removing otherwise troublesome prints, such as the 3D printed solder stencil we covered recently.

[Jan] provides his CAD model but doesn’t really recommend using it for anything other than development work. Results were promising, but there are a number of drawbacks to the prototype. For one thing, it makes the build platform thicker and the Z-axis limit switch needs to be physically lowered in order to zero the unit. Also, the thicker build platform means the volume of resin the build tank can hold is reduced. Still, the idea clearly has merit and shows there absolutely is value in hardware having a hackable design.

Download A Bit Of Sinclair History

If you are a devotee of the Sinclair series of 8-bit home computers then a piece of news from the Centre For Computing History in Cambridge may be of interest to you, they’ve released a copy of the ROM from their ZX Spectrum prototype. This machine surfaced last year as part of a donation form the company originally contracted to write the Spectrum ROM and has been given pride of place int heir exhibition ever since. They’ve been doing some very careful work on it, and while The Register reports they can’t yet make the board boot, they have extracted the code for study. In the video below the break, we see it running on the Speccy emulator on an older Windows PC.

The ROM comes with an invitation to the ZX Spectrum community to analyze it against the stock version, in the hope of revealing ossified fragments of code such as that for the Microdrive storage peripheral which never made it into the stock Spectrum. But should you simply want to try your favorite games with the earliest possible version of the ROM, you can do that too.

We covered the machine’s emergence last year, meanwhile, if you haven’t been to the Centre for Computing History yet, we suggest you take a look at our review from a few years ago.

Continue reading “Download A Bit Of Sinclair History”