Have you ever noticed that people in old photographs looks a bit weird? Deep wrinkles, sunken cheeks, and exaggerated blemishes are commonplace in photos taken up to the early 20th century. Surely not everybody looked like this, right? Maybe it was an odd makeup trend — was it just a fashionable look back then?
Not quite — it turns out that the culprit here is the film itself. The earliest glass-plate emulsions used in photography were only sensitive to the highest-frequency light, that which fell in the blue to ultraviolet range. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when combined with the fact that humans have red blood, this posed a real problem. While some of the historical figures we see in old photos may have benefited from an improved skincare regimen, the primary source of their haunting visage was that the photographic techniques available at the time were simply incapable of capturing skin properly. This lead to the sharp creases and dark lips we’re so used to seeing.
Of course, primitive film isn’t the only thing separating antique photos from the 42 megapixel behemoths that your camera can take nowadays. Film processing steps had the potential to introduce dust and other blemishes to the image, and over time the prints can fade and age in a variety of ways that depend upon the chemicals they were processed in. When rolled together, all of these factors make it difficult to paint an accurate portrait of some of history’s famous faces. Before you start to worry that you’ll never know just what Abraham Lincoln looked like, you might consider taking a stab at Time-Travel Rephotography.
Amazingly, Time-Travel Rephotography is a technique that actually lives up to how cool its name is. It uses a neural network (specifically, the StyleGAN2 framework) to take an old photo and project it into the space of high-res modern photos the network was trained on. This allows it to perform colorization, skin correction, upscaling, and various noise reduction and filtering operations in a single step which outputs remarkable results. Make sure you check out the project’s website to see some of the outputs at full-resolution.
We’ve seen AI upscaling before, but this project takes it to the next level by completely restoring antique photographs. We’re left wondering what techniques will be available 100 years from now to restore JPEGs stored way back in 2021, bringing them up to “modern” viewing standards.
Houston’s historic third ward, aka “The Tre,” is ripe rife with history, and some of that history is digitally preserved and accessible through an art installation in the form of repurposed payphones. We love payphones for obvious reasons and seeing them alive and kicking warms our hearts. Packing them with local history checks even more boxes. Twenty-four people collaborated to rebuild the three phones which can be seen in the video after the break, including three visual artists, three ambassadors, and eighteen residents who put their efforts into making the phones relevant not only to the ward but specifically to the neighborhood. One phone plays sound clips from musicians who lived or still live in the ward, another phone has spoken word stories, and the third has field recordings from significant locations in The Tre.
Each phone is powered by a solar cell and a USB battery pack connected to a Teensy with an audio adapter board, and a 20 watt amplifier. Buttons 1-9 play back recorded messages exclusive to each phone, star will record a message, and zero will play back the user-recorded message. Apps for smart phones are easy for young folks to figure out but the payphones ensure that these time capsules can be appreciated by people of any age, regardless of how tech savvy they are and that is wise as well as attractive. The coin return lever and coin slot also have associated sound clips unlike regular payphones so the artists get extra credit.
Metropolis is a classic, silent film produced in 1927 and was one of the very first full length feature films of the science fiction genre, and very influential. (C-3PO was inspired by Maria, the “Machine human” in Metropolis.) Within the first couple of minutes in the film, we get to see two clocks — one with a 24-hour dial and another larger one with a 10-hour dial. The human overlords of Metropolis lived a utopian 24 hour day, while the worker scum who were forced to live and work underground, were subjected to work in two ten-hour shifts during the same period.
[Aaron]’s client was setting up a Metropolis themed man-cave and commissioned him to build a Metropolis Oscilloclock which would not only show the 24 hour and 10 hour clocks from the film, but also accurately reproduce the clock movements and its fonts. [Aaron]’s Oscilloclock is his latest project in the series of bespoke CRT clocks which he has been building since he was a teen.
The clock is built around a Toshiba ST-1248D vintage oscilloscope that has been beautifully restored. There are some modern additions – such as LED glow indicators for the various valves and an external X-Y input to allow rendering Lissajous figures on the CRT. He’s also added some animations derived from the original poster of the film. Doing a project of this magnitude is not trivial and its taken him almost eight months to bring it from concept to reality. We recommend looking through some of his other blog posts too, where he describes how oscilloclocks work, how he builds the HV power supplies needed to drive the CRT’s, and how he ensures vibration and noise damping for the cooling fans used for the HV power supplies. It’s this attention to detail which results in such well-built clocks. Check out some of [Aaron]’s other awesome Oscilloclock builds that we have featured over the years.
The film itself has undergone several restoration attempts, with most of it being recovered from prints which were discovered in old archives. If you wish to go down that rabbit hole, check out Wikipedia for more details and then head over to YouTube where several versions appear to be hosted.
[Drygol] found himself with six Commodore 64’s in various states of disrepair. Because batch work is often more efficient, he detailed the process of restoring all of them in parallel in this one-, two-, three-part series.
The first step was to whiten the cases. Old cases turn yellow from the degradation of the fire retardant additives in the plastic. The proven method to fix this is with a paste called Retr0bright. [Drygol] used hair bleaching paste which is very similar. The cases came out nicely whitened from their treatment.
Next he repaired the keyboard PCB and whitened the keys as well. Drinking was involved, but it all came out okay. The circuit boards were cleaned and inspected. There were a few corroded spots, broken chips, and bad solder joints to be repaired. A few common mods were also installed.
In the final part of the series two of the C64s have SD cards installed into them. A few interesting fixes were done to repair broken plastics. Lastly the two worst cases were painted. In the end [Drygol] found himself with six perfectly working and attractive C64s. Who know’s what he’ll do with them, but we all know that was not the point.
[Filipe] has been playing around with custom firmware for inexpensive IP cameras. Specifically, he has been using cameras based on a common HI3815 chip. When you are playing around with firmware like this, a major concern is that you may end up bricking the device and rendering it useless. [Filipe] has documented a relatively simple way to backup and restore the firmware on these cameras so you can hack to your heart’s content.
The first part of this hack is hardware oriented. [Filipe] cracked open the camera to reveal the PCB. The board has labeled serial TX and RX pads. After soldering a couple of wires to these pads, [Filipe] used a USB to serial dongle to hook his computer up to the camera’s serial port.
Any terminal program should now be able to connect to the camera at 115200 baud while the camera is booting up. The trick is to press “enter” during the boot phase. This allows you to log in as root with no password. Next you can reset the root password and reboot the camera. From now on you can simply connect to the phone via telnet and log in as root.
From here, [Filipe] copies all of the camera’s partitions over to an NFS share using the dd command. He mentions that you can also use FTP for this if you prefer. At this point, the firmware backup is completed.
Knowing how to restore the backup is just as important as knowing how to create it. [Filipe] built a simple TFTP server and copied the firmware image to it in two chunks, each less than 5MB. The final step is to tell the camera how to find the image. First you need to use the serial port to get the camera back to the U-Boot prompt. Then you configure the camera’s IP address and the TFTP server’s IP address. Finally, you copy each partition into RAM via TFTP and then copy that into flash memory. Once all five partitions are copied, your backup is safely restored and your camera can live to be hacked another day.
Until recently, watches have been entirely mechanical where each wheel, gear, and mechanism representing a milestone in our understanding of precision manufacturing and timekeeping.
Today it is nearly impossible to find watchmakers to service or repair vintage mechanical pocket and wristwatches, so we have to do it ourselves. Learn to repair vintage mechanical watches. You can do this and we’ll show you how.
[Nickolas] dropped us a tip about a Youtube channel where [stevewatr] documents the restoration of an Oliver 770 tractor through no less than 133 videos. These videos span the last year, starting with finding the tractor in fairly dense undergrowth. He spends quite a bit of time troubleshooting the engine, explaining his thought process, and showing all of the steps he takes to get the tractor running reliably again. He also delves into fixes for the electrical and hydraulic systems.
In his tip, [Nickolas] said he just couldn’t stop watching, and we agree, this is really a fascinating series. One of the things we love about these videos is that [stevewatr] doesn’t filter out his mistakes. That means we get to see his failures and successes… Everything from how jump starting wasn’t possible with a small jumper wire, to getting the engine to start cold without a primer. That’s the beauty of our fail-of-the-week posts. Absorb it all, and you’ll be prepared when you run into related problems yourself.
[stevewatr’s] last video doesn’t show a completed tractor, so we look forward to seeing what happens as the project progresses. Even if you aren’t interested in having a tractor of your own, you can certainly use some of this information while building your own personal mech. Give it a try!