Hackaday Podcast 028: Brain Skepticism Turned Up To 11, Web Browsing In ’69, Verilog For 7400 Logic, 3D Printing In Particle Board

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams cover the most interesting hacks over the past week. So much talk of putting computers in touch with our brains has us skeptical on both tech and timeline. We celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Walkman, but the headphones are the real star. Plus, Verilog isn’t just for FPGAs, you can synthesize 7400 circuits too! Elliot is enamored of an additive/subtractive printing process that uses particle board, and we discuss a couple of takes on hybrid-powered drones.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (62 MB)

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Rotary Phone Gets Bluetooth Upgrade

Rotary dial phones have a certain romantic charm about them; something never quite captured in the post-Touch Tone era. With landline phone services less popular than ever, these old workhorses aren’t really cut out for daily use anymore. However, with a modern brain transplant, they can still get the job done just fine.

[Xabier Zubizarreta] has undertaken to retrofit his FeTAp-611 rotary phone with a Bluetooth rig, allowing it to be used with smartphones to place and receive calls. A Raspberry Pi Zero W serves as the brains of the operation, chosen for its compact size and onboard Bluetooth and WiFi. Getting the Pi to work effectively with an Android phone as a Bluetooth audio device requires some trickery, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by custom compiling a few off-the-shelf tools. [Xabier]’s next big hurdle is finding a tidy way to generate a 30 VAC signal to drive the original ringer, something that proves difficult for most similar projects.

We love to see these telecommunication relics kept ticking, so if you happen to be building a vintage telephone exchange in your garden shed – be sure to let us know.

This Vintage Phone Goes Cellular

Way back in the good old days, life ran at a slower pace. It took us almost a decade to get to the moon, and dialling the phone was a lazy affair which required the user to wait for the rotary mechanism to rewind after selecting each digit. Eager to bring a taste of retro telephony into the modern era, [Marek] retrofitted this vintage Polish telephone with a GSM upgrade.

The phone [Marek] salvaged had already been largely gutted, so there was little to lose in the transformation. A Motorola D15 GSM module was sourced from an alarm system to provide a network connection to the project. An Atmega328 was then used to translate the rotary dial mechanics into something more usable by the cellular module.

Attention to detail can really make a project shine, and [Marek] didn’t skimp in this area. The original ringer was rewound to operate with a half H-bridge at a lower voltage more suitable to the modern electronics inside. The microcontroller also helped out by using its PWM hardware to simulate a dialtone and the characteristic sound of pulse dialling.

It’s always nice to see retro hardware given a new lease on life. Unfortunately, GSM networks aren’t long for this world, so a further update may be required before long. These old phones have plenty of potential, as we’ve seen before.

Vintage Rotary Phone Turned Virtual Assistant

Like many of us, [Zoltan Toth-Czifra] has completely embraced 21st century living. His home is awash in smart gadgets and dodads, from color changing light bulbs to Internet-connected cameras. But he’s also got a soft spot for the look and feel of vintage hardware, like the rotary phone he keeps kicking around to remind him of the old days. He recently decided to bridge these two worlds by turning the rotary phone into a modern voice controlled assistant.

The first piece of the puzzle was getting the old school phone connected to something a bit more modern, namely a Raspberry Pi. He didn’t want to hack the vintage phone apart, so he picked up a Grandstream HT801, an adapter that’s used to convert analog telephones to VoIP. [Zoltan] says this model specifically fit the bill as it had a function that allows you to configure a number to dial as soon the phone is lifted off the hook. This allows the user to just pick up the phone and start talking without having to dial anything manually. If you’re looking to pull off a similar setup, you should check to make sure the adapter has this function before pulling the trigger.

With the rotary phone now talking a more modern protocol, [Zoltan] just needed to get the Raspberry Pi side sorted out. He installed a SIP server so it could communicate with the HT801 adapter, and then got to work putting together his virtual assistant. Rather than plug into an existing system, he rolled his own by combining open source packages for controlling his various smart devices with the aptly named SpeechRecognition library for Python.

Right now he’s only programmed a few commands that his system can respond to for controlling his lights and music, but mentions that the system is modular enough that he can add new functions easily. He’s put the source for his virtual assistant framework up on GitHub, which he notes was written in less than 200 lines of original code by virtue of utilizing existing libraries for a lot of the heavy lifting. Open source is a beautiful thing.

In the past we’ve seen rotary phones go mobile thanks to GSM upgrades and dragged kicking and screaming onto the modern phone network with a built-in Raspberry Pi. But we think there’s something especially appealing about the approach [Zoltan] took which preserves the phone’s original hardware.

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Rotary Telephone Becomes Stylish Lamp

The vintage aesthetic is more popular than ever, and while things like rotary phones aren’t particularly useful anymore, there’s a lot of fun to be had using them in new and inventive ways. For this project, [Sander] built an attractive table lamp out of a Siemens rotary phone.

Switched off, the lamp appears to be nothing more than a phone with its handset floating in midair. However turn the dial, and LEDs mounted in the receiver begin to glow. Taking things a step further as good hackers do, [Sander] used a motorised potentiometer to control the LED brightness with a NodeMCU board featuring the ESP8266. This allows the LEDs to be dimmed either by hand, or by a smartphone connected over WiFi, without the dial getting out of sync.

By using a dual H-bridge setup, the NodeMCU is able to both control the motorized pot as well as generate an AC signal to activate the original bell in the phone, which adds a whole lot of nostalgia points. Fitting the motorized pot into the phone did lend some challenges but that didn’t slow [Sander] down – they simply used a cheap universal joint to allow the motor to connect to the rotary dial off-axis. A great trick to keep in your back pocket.

For the haunting floating effect, [Sander] used a meter of 4 mm brass rod, bending it into shape to hold up the handset. This was used as a ground, and along with a couple of extra wires for power, was covered in a black textile sheath recovered from another electrical cable. [Sander] tells us it wasn’t the easiest thing to pull off, but we definitely agree that the effect is totally worth it.

Thirsty for more vintage ephemera? Check out this rotary phone that runs on GSM. Video below the break.

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Hackaday Links: December 11, 2016

We have a contest going on right now challenging you to do the most with 1 kB of data. If you want to get into this, here’s how you do it for a dollar. Use the PIC12C508A. It’s an 8-pin DIP, has 768 bytes of program ROM and 25 bytes of data RAM. [Shaos] is trying to generate NTSC on this thing.

Remember that Internet of Cookie Oven Kickstarter from the links post a few weeks ago? It was funded. It has a heating element that is ‘more energy efficient than traditional electric elements’, and there’s still no consensus over how a resistive heating element can be more efficient. It’s either 100% efficient, or 0% efficient, depending on how you look at it.

[Matthias Wandell], master of wood gears recently built a 20″ bandsaw from scratch. It’s a wood frame, wood wheels, a (currently) underpowered motor, and a few bits of metal and rubber. The video build log is fantastic, so start here and work your way forward.

Way back in the day, Sparkfun sold a Bluetooth rotary phone. Yes, at some point in the past, phones didn’t have touchscreens or even buttons. In any event, Sparkfun hasn’t sold these phones for quite a long time. Now there’s a new hotness: giving these rotary phones a GSM module.

Here’s a little Hackaday Events housekeeping. On January 23rd, we’re going to have a meetup in NYC. We’ll also have a meetup in LA sometime in January as well. Also in January I’ll be attending CES, reporting on the latest Internet of Toasters. A week later, Hackaday will be at ShmooCon in Washington, DC. At ShmooCon last year, we had a breakfast meetup in the DC Hilton. This year, I want to do something similar. If you have an idea of what to do, leave a note in the comments.

Retro Rotary Raspi Phone Rings Alexa

[MisterM] is a man after our own heart. He loves to combine the aesthetic of vintage equipment with the utility of new technologies. His latest venture is AlexaPhone, which marries the nearly instantaneous retrieval and computation power of Amazon’s Alexa voice service with the look and feel of a 1970s rotary phone. Best of all, there’s no need to spin the dial and wait for it to go whirring back around. AlexaPhone is ready to take questions as soon as the handset is lifted.

Questions are transmitted through a salvaged USB VOIP phone plugged into the Pi. The user must hang up the receiver in order to trigger the search. Once Alexa has an answer, the audio comes back through a small external amplified speaker with a USB-rechargeable battery. Since the hardware is a bit atypical for Alexa, [MisterM] had a bit of trouble at first trying to query the service with a physical button until he came across this AlexaPi code.

This phone is actually a reproduction of a classic BT Trimphone, which explains the asterisk and octothorpe on the dial.  The modern internals meant that [MisterM] could take advantage of the ribbon cable coming off of the receiver hook to trigger the Pi to send the query. Watch [MisterM]’s kids put Alexa through her paces after the break.

If this has you feeling nostalgic, check out this vintage Chromecast TV we covered recently or this old Russian radio reborn as a Bluetooth speaker.

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