Homemade LED Clock Stands Test Of Time

In an era when you might get chastised if your mobile phone is more than two years old, it’s easy to forget that hardware was not always meant to be a temporary commodity. We acknowledge a few standout examples of classic hardware still surviving into the modern era, such as vintage computers, but they’re usually considered to be more of a novelty than an engineering goal. In a disposable society, many have forgotten that quality components and a well thought out design should give you a service life measured in decades, not months.

A perfect example of this principle is the beautiful LED clock built 40 years ago by [Davide Andrea]. A teenager at the time, [Davide] built this clock to be used by the local radio station, as clocks that showed seconds were important for timing radio shows. Finding it in storage recently, [Davide] took to the /r/electronics subreddit to report that it still works fine after all these years.

Cracking open the case shows a unique and highly functional construction style. Notches cut into the side panels of the case accept individual protoboards in a “blade” type configuration, with the blades connected by a handful of individual wires. No digging through the parts bin for a “worthless” old IDE cable to tear up back in the 1970’s.

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Yellowing: the Plastic Equivalent of a Sunburn

Your fancy white electronic brick of consumer electronics started off white, but after some time it yellowed and became brittle. This shouldn’t have happened; plastic is supposed to last forever. It turns out that plastic enclosures are vulnerable to the same things as skin, and the effects are similar. When they are stared at by the sun, the damage is done even though it might not be visible to you for quite some time.

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CRT Cataract Surgery

Back in the good old days, people got their information by staring into particle accelerators that could implode at any moment, and we liked it that way, by gum! To protect against disaster, CRT monitors were equipped with a safety screen laminated to the front of the tube. Decades of use often resulted in degradation of the glue used to hold the safety glass on, leading to the dread disease of “CRT cataracts.”

Luckily for aficionados of vintage terminals, [John Sutley] has come up with a cure for CRT cataracts. The video below shows the straightforward but still somewhat fussy process from start to finish. You’ll want to follow [John]’s advice on discharging the high-voltage flyback section of any stored charge; we speak from painful experience on this. With the CRT removed from the case, removing the safety screen is as simple as melting the glue with a hot air gun and applying gentle leverage with a putty knife. We’d think a plastic tool would be less likely to scratch the glass, but [John] managed to get them apart without incident. Acetone and elbow grease cleaned off the old glue, and the restored CRT looks great when reassembled.

With its cataracts cured, [John] says his next step is to restore the wonky keyboard on his Lear Siegler ADM-3A terminal. Perhaps he should look over this VT220 keyboard repair for ideas.

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Eye Tube Tests Capacitors

Most component testers require removal of a component to test it. [Mr Carlson] recently restored an old Paco C-25 in-circuit capacitor tester. He does a very complete video tearing it down and showing how it works and why.

The tester uses an eye tube (sometimes called a magic eye tube) as an indicator. A 40 MHz oscillator produces a signal that finds open and shorted capacitors. You can also measure resistance, although you have to wonder how accurate it would be in circuit. If you want to read the original manual, there are a few copies online.

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Dual Trace Scope 1939 Style

If you buy a serious scope these days, it is a good bet it will have at least two channels. There is a lot of value to being able to see two signals in relation to one another at one time. Even though the dual-trace oscilloscope goes back to 1938, they were uncommon and expensive for many years. [Mr. Carlson] found a device from 1939 that would turn a single channel scope into a dual trace scope. In 1939, that was quite the engineering feat.

Today, a dual trace scope is very likely to be digital. But some analog scopes used CRTs with multiple beams to actually draw two traces on the same screen. Most, however, would draw either one trace followed by the other (alternate mode) or rapidly switch between channels (chopper mode). This Sylvania type 104 electronic switch looks like it takes the alternate approach, switching between signals on each sweep using vacuum tubes. You can see the device in action in the video, below.

The inputs and outputs of the device are just simple binding posts, but the unit looked to be in good shape except for the power cord. [Mr. Carlson] does a teardown and he even traced out a hand-drawn schematic. Fair warning. The video is pretty long. If you want to get right to the switch actually driving a scope, that’s at about one hour and seven minutes in.

We doubt we’ll see a tube-based Quake game anytime soon. If you want to get into restoring old tube-based gear yourself, you could do worse than read about radio restoration.

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Retro-Styled Raspberry Pi Radio

Ok, so you want a radio — but not just any radio. It has to be wireless, access a variety of music services, and must have a vintage aesthetic that belies its modern innards. Oh, and a tiny screen that displays album art, because that’s always awesome. This 1938 Emerson AX212-inspired radio delivers.

Building on the backbone of a Raspberry Pi Zero W and an Adafruit MAX 98357 mono amp chip, the crux of this single-speaker radio is the program Mopidy. Mopidy is a music player that enables streaming from multiple services, with the stipulation that you have a premium Spotify account. Once signed up, [Tinkernut] helpfully outlines how to set up Mopidy to run automatically once the Pi boots up. The addition of a screen to display album art adds flair to the design,  and Adafruit’s 1.8″ TFT LCD screen is small enough to fit the bill.

But wait — there’s more!

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Adding Character To The C64

The venerable Commodore 64, is there anything it can’t do? Like many 1980s computer platforms, direct access to memory and peripherals makes hacking easy and fun. In particular, you’ll find serial & parallel ports are ripe for experimentation, but the Commodore has its expansion/cartridge port, too, and [Frank Buss] decided to hook it up to a two-line character LCD.

Using the expansion port for this duty is a little unconventional. Unlike the parallel port, the expansion port doesn’t have a stable output, as such. The port contains the data lines of the 6510 CPU and thus updates whenever RAM is read or written to, rather then updating in a controlled fashion like a parallel port does. However, [Frank] found a way around this – the IO1 and IO2 lines go low when certain areas of memory are written to. By combining these with latch circuitry, it’s possible to gain up to 16 parallel output lines – more than enough to drive a simple HD44780 display! It’s a testament to the flexibility of 74-series logic.
It’s all built on a C64 cartridge proto-board of [Frank]’s own design, and effort was made to ensure the LCD works with BASIC for easy experimentation. It’s a tidy mod that could easily be built into a nice enclosure and perhaps used as the basis for an 8-bit automation project. Someone’s gotta top that Amiga 2000 running the school district HVAC, after all!