The Electronics of Cold War Nightmares

It is a good bet that if you look around you, you’ll be able to find at least one smoke detector in sight. If not, there’s probably one not too far away. Why not? Fires happen and you’d like to know about a fire even if you are sleeping or alert others if you are away. During the cold war, there were other things that people didn’t want to sleep through. [Msylvain59] tears down two examples: a Soviet GSP-11 nerve agent detector and a Polish RS-70 radiation alarm. You can see both videos, below.

In all fairness, the GSP-11 is clearly not meant for consumer use. It actually uses a test strip that changes colors and monitors the color change. Presumably, the people operating it were wearing breathing gear because the machine could take quite a while to provide a positive output. Inside reminded us of a film processing machine, which isn’t too far off.

The radiation monitor looks more like a miniature version of an old floor-standing radio. The case design, the thick-traced, single-sided, hand-drawn printed wiring board, and the –by today’s standards — huge parts within all contribute to making this look like a piece of radio gear from the 1970s or even earlier.

Continue reading “The Electronics of Cold War Nightmares”

Rescue an Old Washing Machine With Modern Controls

The humble washing machine is an appliance that few of us are truly passionate about. They’re expected to come into our lives and serve faithfully, with a minimum of fuss. In the good old days, it was common for a washing machine to last for well over 20 years, and in doing so ingratiate itself with its masters. Sadly now while the simple mechanical parts may still be serviceable, the electronics behind the scenes can tend to fail. This is a Russian story (Google Translate link) about giving a new brain to an old friend.

The machine in question is known as an Oriole, and had served long and hard. Logic chips and entire controllers had been replaced, but were continuing to fail. Instead, a replacement was designed to keep the machine operational for some time yet. Rather than relying on recreating the full feature set of the machine it was decided to eliminate certain things for simplicity. Settings for different fabric types or wash modes were eliminated, which is an easy choice if like most people all your washes are done in the same mode anyway. A water level sensor was found to be no longer functioning properly and was simpler to eliminate than repair.

The brain is a PIC microcontroller, with an ESP12 acting as a webserver for monitoring and control. Additionally, a glass lens was taken from some former medical equipment and neatly installed in the control panel of the machine before an OLED display, giving the machine far more feedback than before. Control is still done with the machine’s original buttons. Temperature sensors were added as well to allow the machine to shut itself down in the event of an overheating problem. It’s all tied together on what looks to be a classic single-sided homebrew PCB.

It’s a great project that shows it’s easy to bring modern electronic might to bear on vintage mechanical hardware, with great results. A washing machine lives to see another day, another load – and the landfill remains just that much lighter, to boot.

We’ve seen controller builds for old washing machines before, too – like replacing mechanical control with an Arduino.

[Thanks to Tirotron for sending this in!]

Radio MDZhB

If you have a shortwave receiver, tune it to 4625 kHz. You’ll hear something that on the surface sounds strange, but the reality is even stranger still. According to the BBC, the radio station broadcasts from two locations inside Russia — and has since 1982 — but no one claims ownership of the station, known as MDZhB. According to the BBC:

[For 35 years, MDZhB] has been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.
Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it.

If you don’t have a shortwave handy, you can always try one of the many web-based software defined radios. Search for 4.6 MHz, and pick a location that should have propagation to Russia and you are all set.

Continue reading “Radio MDZhB”

Russian Decapping Madness

It all started off innocently enough. [mretro] was curious about what was inside a sealed metal box, took a hacksaw to it and posted photographs up on the Interwebs. Over one hundred forum pages and several years later, the thread called (at least in Google Translate) “dissecting room” continues to amaze.

h_1466184174_4168461_2f4afb42b7If you like die shots, decaps, or teardowns of oddball Russian parts, this is like drinking from a firehose. You can of course translate the website, but it’s more fun to open it up in Russian and have a guess at what everything is before peeking. (Hint: don’t look at the part numbers. NE555 is apparently “NE555” in Russian.)

From a brief survey, a lot of these seem to be radio parts, and a lot of it is retro or obsolete. Forum user [lalka] seems to have opened up one of every possible Russian oscillator circuit. The website loads unfortunately slowly, at least where we are, but bear in mind that it’s got a lot of images. And if your fingers tire of clicking, note that the URL ends with the forum page number. It’d be a snap to web-scrape the whole darn thing overnight.

We love teardowns and chip shots, of old gear and of new. So when you think you’ve got a fake part, or if you need to gain access to stuff under that epoxy blob for whatever reason, no matter how embarrassing, bring along a camera and let us know!

Thanks [cfavreau] for the great tip!