How To Lace Cables Like It’s 1962

Cable harnesses made wire management a much more reliable and consistent affair in electronic equipment, and while things like printed circuit boards have done away with many wires, cable harnessing still has its place today. Here is a short how-to on how to lace cables from a 1962 document, thoughtfully made available on the web by [Gary Allsebrook] and [Jeff Dairiki].

It’s a short resource that is to the point in all the ways we love to see. The diagrams are very clear and the descriptions are concise, and everything is done for a reason. The knots are self-locking, ensuring that things stay put without being overly tight or constrictive.

According to the document, the ideal material for lacing cables is a ribbon-like nylon cord (which reduces the possibility of biting into wire insulation compared to a cord with a round profile) but the knots and techniques apply to whatever material one may wish to use.

Cable lacing can be done ad-hoc, but back in the day cable assemblies were made separately and electrically tested on jigs prior to installation. In a way, such assemblies served a similar purpose to traces on a circuit board today.

Neatly wrapping cables really has its place, and while doing so by hand can be satisfying, we’ve also seen custom-made tools for neatly wrapping cables with PTFE tape.

Video Poker Takes Your Money In 10 Lines Of BASIC

It wasn’t easy, but [D. Scott Williamson] succeeded in implementing Jacks or Better Video Poker in 10 lines of BASIC, complete with flashing light and sound! Each round, one places a bet then plays a hand of 5-card draw, hoping to end up with Jacks or better.

This program is [Scott]’s entry into the 2024 BASIC 10 Liner Contest, which at this writing has concluded submissions and expects to announce results on April 6th 2024. Contestants may choose any 8-bit computer system BASIC, and must implement their program within ten lines of code (classically limited to 80 characters per line, but there are different categories with different constraints on line width.)

10 lines of BASIC is truly an exercise in information density.

We’ve seen impressive 10-line BASIC programs before, like this re-implementation of the E.T. video game. (Fun fact: while considered one of the worst video games of all time, there’s a compelling case to be made that while it was a flop, it was ahead of its time and mostly just misunderstood.)

These programs don’t look much like the typical BASIC programs many of us remember. They are exercises in information density, where every character counts. So we’re delighted to see [Scott] also provides a version of his code formatted and commented for better readability, and a logical overview that steps through each line.

He spends a little time talking about the various challenges, as well. For example, hand ranking required a clever solution. IF…THEN conditionals would rapidly consume the limited lines of code, so hands are ranked programmatically. The 52-card deck is also simulated, rather than simply generating random cards on the fly.

The result looks great, and you can watch it in action in the video, just under the page break. If this sort of challenge tweaks your interest, there’s plenty of time to get started on next year’s BASIC 10 Liner Contest. Fire up those emulators!

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Absolutely Everything About The Coleco Adam, 8-bit Home Computer

[Thom Cherryhomes] shared with us an incredible resource for anyone curious about the Coleco Adam, one of the big might-have-been home computers of the 80s. There’s a monstrous 4-hour deep dive video (see the video description for a comprehensive chapter index) that makes a fantastic reference for anyone wanting to see the Coleco Adam and all of its features in action, in the context of 8-bit home computing in the 80s.

[Image by Akbkuku, CC BY 4.0]
The Adam aimed to be an all-in-one computer package, targeting a family audience for both education and gaming purposes, with a price target around $600, a pretty compelling pitch.

The video is a serious in-depth look at the Adam, providing practical demonstrations of everything in various scenarios. This includes showcasing commercials from the period, detailing the system’s specs and history, explaining the Adam’s appeal, discussing specific features, comparing advertisement promises to real costs, and giving a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the system. All of the talk notes are available as well, providing a great companion to the chapter index.

Manufactured by the same Coleco responsible for the ColecoVision gaming console, the Adam had great specs, a great price, and a compelling array of features. Sadly, it was let down badly at launch and Coleco never recovered. However, the Adam remains of interest in the retrocomputing scene and we’ve even seen more than one effort to convert the Adam’s keyboard to USB.

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What Can You Do With Thousands Of Vintage Telephones?

Telephones. We’ve got a few around the place, and some may remember all the weird and wonderful varieties produced over the years. But, vintage phone dealers [Ron and Mary Knappen] may have a few too many. With a large 41,000 sqft property, at least three farm buildings, and no fewer than 33 semi-trailers loaded to busting with racks of phones, the retiring couple have a job sorting it all out and finding someone passionate enough to take over this once-strong business.

Technology has moved on somewhat since 1971 when they got into the retro business, and there are only so many period dramas being produced that could make a dent in a collection of a thousand steel desk phones. Nobody seems interested in taking on their business, so they are concentrating on emptying that large property in order to sell it, but the fate of the crazy number of other storage locations seems uncertain. Perhaps, other than a few museums around the world purchasing a few, this collection really is likely heading to the recyclers.

So what can we do with a vintage phone in this modern era? Here’s a primer to get you started. How about going cellular? Or maybe just add them to your existing designer collection?

Thanks to [Jeremy] and Adafruit for the tip!

Wandering Through Old Word Processors Yields A Beast

The world once ran on hardcopy, and when the digital age started to bring new tools and ways of doing things, documents were ripe for change. Today, word processors and digital documents are so ubiquitous that they are hardly worth a thought, but that didn’t happen all at once. [Cathode Ray Dude] has a soft spot for old word processors and the journey they took over decades, and he walks through the Olivetti ETV 2700.

In the days of character displays and no multitasking, WYSIWYG as a concept was still a long ways off.

The ETV 2700 is a monstrous machine; a fusion of old-school word processor, x86-based hardware, and electric 17 inch-wide typewriter.

With it one could boot up a word processor that is nothing like the WYSIWYG of today, write and edit a document, and upon command, the typewriter portion could electronically type out a page. A bit like a printer, but it really is an electric typewriter with a computer interface. Characters were hammered out one at a time with daisy wheel and ink ribbon on a manually-loaded page using all the usual typewriter controls.

While internally the machine has an x86 processor, expects a monitor and even boots MS-DOS, the keyboard had its own layout (and even proprietary keys and functions), did not support graphical output, and in other ways was unusual even by the standards of the oddball decades during which designers and products experimented with figuring out what worked best in terms of functionality and usability.

Nowadays, we see AI-enabled typewriter projects and porting vintage OSes to vintage word processor hardware, but such projects are in some part possible in part thanks to the durability of these devices. The entire video is embedded below, but you can jump directly to what the Olivetti ETV 2700 looked like on the inside if that’s what interests you most.

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Turning Soviet Electronics Into A Nixie Tube Clock

Sometimes you find something that looks really cool but doesn’t work, but that’s an opportunity to give it a new life. That was the case when [Davis DeWitt] got his hands on a weird Soviet-era box with four original Nixie tubes inside. He tears the unit down, shows off the engineering that went into it and explains what it took to give the unit a new life as a clock.

Each digit is housed inside a pluggable unit. If a digit failed, a technician could simply swap it out.

A lot can happen over decades of neglect. That was clear when [Davis] discovered every single bolt had seized in place and had to be carefully drilled out. But Nixie tubes don’t really go bad, so he was hopeful that the process would pay off.

The unit is a modular display of some kind, clearly meant to plug into a larger assembly. Inside the unit, each digit is housed in its own modular plug with a single Nixie tube at the front, a small neon bulb for a decimal point, and a bunch of internal electronics. Bringing up the rear is a card edge connector.

Continues after the break…

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Building A MiniPET Is Better With Friends

[Taylor and Amy] love taking on retro computer projects. This week they’re building a MiniPET from Tynemouth and The Future is 8 Bit.  It’s a pretty awesome kit which sadly isn’t available anymore. Taylor bought one of the last ones as part of a charity sale at the 2023 Vintage Computer Festival Southwest.

If you haven’t seen their YouTube channel yet, check it out! The two have been best friends since 1984. Their channel has just the right mix of education and comedy, with pacing fast enough to keep things interesting. It’s really refreshing to see two people enjoying a project together.

The MiniPET is of course a reproduction of the hardware in the Commodore PET, the machine which predated the VIC-20 and of course the Commodore 64. The kit starts with installing a few discrete parts — resistors,  capacitors, and diodes.  Then come the IC sockets. [Taylor and Amy] ran into a bit of trouble when it came time to install the chips. While installing the 40-pin 65C21 Peripheral Interface Adapter (PIA), one pin bent under the socket. [Taylor] popped the chip back out, and replaced it — which resulted in 3 bent pins!

Anyone who’s installed new DIP parts has been through this. The pins are always bent out a bit from the factory. The old “Bend it in using a table” method usually works — but if you want perfect pins, try a pin straightener. These versatile tools can even be 3D printed.

Once the pin problems are solved, it’s time to power up the kit and see if it will work.  That’s when we get to see that magic moment when a project first comes to life. Check out the video – you’ll see what we mean.

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