Restoring classic hardware of any sort is a great hobby to have, whether it’s restoring vintage cars, tools, or even antique Apple or Commodore computers. Understanding older equipment can help improve one’s understanding of the typically more complicated modern equivalents, plus it’s just plain fun to get something old up and running again. Certainly we see more retro computing restorations around here, but one thing that we don’t typically see much of is the networking equipment that would have gotten those older computers onto the early Internet. [Retrocet] has a strong interest in that area, and his latest dial-up server really makes us feel like we’re back in the 90s.
This home networking lab is built around a Cobalt Qube 2 that was restored after it was gifted to him as a wedding present. The Qube had a cutting edge 250 MHz 64-bit processor with up to 256 MB of RAM, and shipped with a customized Linux distribution as an operating system. The latest upgrade to this build sped up the modems to work at their full 56k rates which involved the addition of a DIVA T/A ISDN terminal and some additional hardware which ensures that incoming calls to the modems are digital. Keeping the connections digital instead of analog keeps the modems from lowering their speed to 33k to handle the conversions.
Until recently, [Retrocet] was running some of the software needed for this setup in a custom virtual machine, but thanks to the full restoration of the Qube and some tweaking of the Red Hat Linux install to improve the Point-to-Point Protocol capabilities of the older system, everything is now running on the antique hardware. If you are like [Retrocet] and have a bunch of this older hardware sitting around, there are still some ISPs available that can provide you with some service.
We’ve seen a few interesting magnetic core memories on these fine pages over the years, but we don’t recall seeing too many user programmable magnetic core memory devices. This interesting Russian telephone auto dialer in its day would have been a very useful device, capable of storing and dialing forty user programmable 7-digit numbers. [mikeselectricstuff] tore into one (video, embedded below), and found some very interesting tech. For its era, this is high technology stuff. Older Russian tech has a reputation for incredibly ingenious use of older parts, that can’t be denied. After all, if it works, then there’s no need to change it. But anyway, what’s interesting here is how the designers decided to solve the problem of programming and recalling of numbers, without using a microprocessor, by using discrete logic and core rope memory.
This is the same technology used by the Apollo Guidance Computer, but in a user configurable form, and obviously much smaller storage capacity. The core array consists of seven, four-bit words, one word per telephone digit, which will be read out sequentially bottom to top. The way you program your number is to take your programming wire, insert it into the appropriate hole (one row related to numbers 1-20, the other row is shifted 1-20 for the second bank) and thread it along the cores in a weave type pattern. Along the way, the wire is passed through or bypasses a particular core, depending upon the digit you are coding for. They key for this encoding is written on the device’s lid. At the end, you then need to terminate the wire in the matching top connector, to allow the circuit to be completed.
As far as we can tell, the encoding is a binary sequence, with a special ‘stop’ code to indicate telephone numbers with less than seven digits. We shall leave further analysis to interested parties, and just point you at the Original manufacturer schematics. Enjoy!
Of course we’re not just going to mention rope core memory and the AGC without linking to a fantastic article about the very same, and if that’s wetting your appetite for making a rope core memory, here’s a little thing about that too!
Continue reading “Soviet-Era Auto Dialler Uses Magnetic Rope Core Memory” →
If you thought programming your 1990s VCR was rough, wait until you see this Russian telephone autodialer that [Mike] took apart over on the mikeselectricalstuff YouTube channel (video below the break). [Mike] got this 1980s Soviet-era machine a few years ago, and finally got around to breaking into it to learning what makes it tick. The autodialer plugs into the phone line, much like an old-school answering machine. It provides the user with 40 pre-set telephone numbers, arranged in two banks of 20, and a speaker to monitor the connection process. It uses pulse dialing — no touch tones. What’s surprising is how you program the numbers. Given that this was build in the 1980s Soviet Union, he wasn’t expecting a microcontroller. But he wasn’t expecting transformer core “rope” memory, either.
The phone normally sits on a platform on the left side of the machine. Raising up the platform exposes a bank of toroidal cores, arranged in seven rows of four. Each row corresponds to a dialed digit, and the four cores used to encode a single digit. At the top and bottom of the programming board are two 40-pin connectors, each pin corresponding to one of the preset phone numbers. A bunch of patch wires would have been provided, and you program each number by threading a long wire through the appropriate cores, connecting it at the top and bottom connectors much like a modern solderless breadboard. It’s also interesting to see the components and construction technique of this circuit board. For example, the diodes have the strip on the Anode end, not the cathode as we’re normally used to today. The transistor cans are mounted upside down like dead spiders.
Continue reading “Threaded Wires Save Phone Numbers” →
Hot on the heels of their carbon microphone build a few years ago, [Simplifier] strung up a two-phone network between the house and the workshop. Both telephones are completely DIY except for the pair of switches on the front. Each side has a bell, a microphone, and an audio transformer. Listening is done through a pair of headphones, and both users speak through a homebrew carbon microphone.
We particularly love the bell, which is made from fence post caps. Sitting between the bells and ready to strike is a ball bearing mounted on a really thick piece of wire that’s driven by an electromagnet. To make a call, you use both switches — the one on the left pulls either the bell or the microphone to ground, while the switch on the
left right is used momentarily to send 6 V from the lantern battery down the 50 ft. line to the other phone to ring it. You’ll see what we mean in the demo video after the break. Check out the sound of those fence post caps!
[Simplifier] wound an audio transformer that provides the necessary impedance matching to use regular headphones as receivers. Since the homebrew microphones only need 1.5 V, [Simplifier] split the voltage across two carbon contacts placed in series. That’s still more than necessary, but [Simplifier] was able to make it work.
More recently, [Simplifier] has built a beautiful and even better carbon microphone and even hosted a back-to-basics Hack Chat.
Continue reading “The Calls Are Coming From Inside The House (or Workshop)” →
For those of us who started experimenting with electricity when we were very young, one of the essential first skills was learning how to twist wires together. It seems like there’s not much to learn, but after a few failed attempts with nothing but your fingers, you learned a few tricks that are probably still with you to this day. It’s not surprising, then, that there’s an official US Army way to twist wires together, as this Signal Corps training film from 1941 shows.
Considering that the Signal Corps had nearly 80 years of experience with wiring battlefield communications at the outbreak of World War II, their methods were pretty solid, as were their materials. The film mainly concerns the splicing together of rolls of type W110-B field wire, used by the Signal Corps to connect command posts to forward positions, observation posts, and the rear echelons. More often than not laid directly upon the ground, the wire had to be tough, waterproof, and conductive enough that field telephone gear would still work over long loop lengths. As such, the steel-reinforced, rubber-and-fabric clad cable was not the easiest stuff to splice. Where we might cringe at the stresses introduced by literally tying a conductor in knots, it was all part of the job for the wire-laying teams that did the job as quickly as possible, often while taking enemy fire.
The film also has a section on splicing a new line into an existing, in-service circuit, using a T-splice and paying careful attention to the topology of the knots used, lest they come undone under stress. It’s fascinating how much thought was put into something as mundane as twisting wires, but given the stakes, we can appreciate the attention to detail.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Wire Splicing The Army Way” →
We think of the mobile phone — well, what we would call a cell phone — as something fairly modern. Many of us can still remember when using a ham radio phone patch from your parked car would have people staring and murmuring. But it turns out in the late 1940s, Bell Telephone offered Mobile Telephone Service (MTS). It was expensive and didn’t work as well as what we have now, but it did let you make or receive calls from your automobile. After the break, you can see a promotional film about MTS.
The service rolled out in St. Louis in the middle of 1946. The 80-pound radios went in the trunk with a remote handset wired to the dashboard. At first, there were only 3 channels but later Bell added 29 more to keep up with demand. An operator connected incoming and outbound calls and if three other people were using their mobile phones, you were out of luck.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Mobile Phones 1940s Style” →
[Max] had a rotary dial from an old telephone and — unsurprisingly — had nothing in particular to do with it. The simple answer? Use an Arduino Leonardo to turn it into a USB keyboard device.
Of course, the Leonardo can easily impersonate a USB keyboard, so that’s the easy part of the project. Interfacing to the dial requires an understanding of how the phone system works.
While today, TouchTone phones are most common, they were quite uncommon for many years. Early phones required you to have an operator connect your circuit to another person’s circuit. Unfortunately for the operators, the system was inherently unscalable and also cost prohibitive.
There were a variety of schemes tried and — supposedly — an undertaker who was angry that the operator was connecting his customers to her husband’s competing mortuary invented the dial telephone.
The details are pretty simple. A typical dial has two contacts. There’s a normally open contact that closes when you spin the dial to any position. It says closed until the spring returns the dial to the home position.
The other contact is normally closed and makes or breaks the phone line. Each time the dial rewinds past a position, the contact opens briefly. Of course, this is a mechanical system, so the software has to debounce the inputs, but that’s easy enough.
If you don’t have access to a dial, you could always print one. Sort of.