Category Archives: Vintage Technology

Vintage Computer Festival West XI


The Vintage Computer Festival is happening at the Computer History Museum in Mountain view this weekend, August 6-7.

Hands-on exhibits are presented Saturday and Sunday. You’ll find demos of 1960s minicomputers, 1970s homebrew systems, 1980s eight-bitters, and a few oddities. Some exhibits contain pristine original machines, while others focus on unique modern hacks, and everything in between.

The MOnSter 6502 will be there, too!

Nixin: a font inspired by Nixie Tubes

Nixin is a font being kickstarted by Nelio Barros inspired by our Nixie tube take-apart post.

Simply put, the original nixie tubes are beautiful and retro. They bring us the spirit of an era where technology often looked like magic.

Nixin is based on the original 9 numbers that are exactly the same as can be found inside the nixie tubes, and all the other characters are my interpretation to what they would look like, if they existed inside a tube.

Here’s one of our photos he used in the video to talk about the inspiration behind the font:

Just numbers

The campaign ends in a few days, so act quickly to support the project!

Introducing the MOnSter 6502

MOnSter 6502 PCB

Our collaborator Eric Schlaepfer has been extremely hard at work this year, designing a truly monstrous follow up to our giant-scale dis-integrated 555 and 741 circuits. This is the MOnSter 6502: a transistor-scale replica of the famous MOS 6502 microprocessor, the processor found at the heart of influential early computer systems such as the Apple ][ and the Commodore PET.

It is huge, at 12 × 15 inches, with over 4000 surface mount components, and 167 indicator LEDs added throughout so that you can see the flow of data.

MOnSter 6502

This is a new project, still underway. We will be showing off the first prototype of the MOnSter 6502 at the Bay Area Maker Faire this coming weekend. We don’t promise that it will be completely working by then — this is a first stab at an extremely ambitious project — but we’re genuinely excited to show it off in this early stage.

Decode ROM

You can read more about the MOnSter 6502 on its main project page, monster6502.com, and at Eric’s blog, tubetime.us.

(Before you ask, the MOnSter 6502 is not yet a kit or product that we’re selling. Right now, it’s an amazing thing that we’re trying to build. If you would like to stay in the loop as this project evolves, we’ve set up a special mailing list for updates.)

Dr. Nim Prototypes

Dr. Nim was made by John Godfrey, the same person who designed the original Digi-Comp II. His grandson, Andrew Beck, has the Dr. Nim prototypes and recently shared pictures and video of them via twitter.

Andrew says,

Here’s a video showing the first two Dr. Nim prototypes, made by hand in the 1960s

The second prototype still works, and he shows off how the mechanism works in the video, along with pointing out some of the differences between the two prototypes.

The earlier prototype has switches that look very similar to the ones in the Digi-Comp II.

The second prototype is very close to the production version, which we blogged about some time ago, and can be seen below.

Thank you, Andrew, for sharing this bit of history!

XL741: Principles of Operation

XL741

Our two “dis-integrated circuit” kits are the Three Fives Discrete 555 Timer, and the XL741 Discrete Op-Amp. These two kits are functional, transistor-level replicas of the original NE555 and μA741 (respectively), which are two of the most popular integrated circuits of all time.

Last year, we wrote up a detailed educational supplement for the Three Fives kit, that works through its circuit diagram and discusses its principles of operation down to the transistor level. Today, we are doing the same for the XL741 kit, and releasing an educational supplement that explains how a ‘741 op-amp IC works internally, down to its bare transistors and resistors:

XL741 Documentation (PDF)

This ability to peek inside the circuit makes the XL741 a unique educational tool. In what follows, we’ll work through the circuit diagram, discuss the theory of operation of the ‘741 op-amp, and present some opportunities for experiments and further exploration.

You can download the supplement here: XL741 Principles of Operation (1.1 MB PDF)

Additional Resources:

 

 

 

Retro-tech Style in the New York Times

Component Wine Charms

I’m excited to be included in an article on retro tech style in the New York Times today, titled Nintendo 64s and Vintage PlayStations as Home Décor.

Not surprisingly, these techie hobbyists share their passion in online communities. One of the more popular forums is a D.I.Y. tech blog run by Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, a family company in Sunnyvale, Calif., that produces open-source hardware. The site features tutorials on making earrings out of linear regulator chips, wine charms from capacitors and a wooden footstool in the shape of a classic 555 integrated circuit chip from the ’70s.

Hard Drive Earrings

Wearing my new earrings

The newest in my collection of geeky jewelry: glass hard drive platter earrings.

tiny platters

We picked up a tray of tiny glass platters at a local surplus shop some time ago, marked “Tear Down Qty: 25 pcs.”

CF card for comparison

These one inch platters were used in Microdrives, which were designed to fit into CompactFlash card slots. (Shown with CompactFlash card above for scale.) They were used in (among other things) the iPod mini. After 2006, CF cards outpaced the capacity of the fragile Microdrives, and they’re no longer manufactured.

Earrings

The platters are attached to the earring hooks with magnet wire. They’re incredibly reflective, and everywhere I wear them, spots of light are dancing around me.


Related: Hard Drive Wind Chimes

Podtique: podcast player in an antique radio

Podtique: Antique Podcast Player

Our friend Rick stopped by to show us his latest project, which he calls Podtique: a podcast player built into an antique radio cabinet. Using the original knobs, you tune in on “stations” which play different podcasts, with realistically generated static in between.

Podtique

The whole thing is run on a BeagleBone Black, and uses NeoPixel backlighting behind the dial. He’s written up the build on his blog, posted his code on github, and shared a heap of build photos in an album on flickr.