A Vintage Bliley Crystal

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They don’t make — or package — them like they used to. This is a vintage radio crystal from the Bliley Electric Company.  Bliley is still around, making modern oscillators and even space flight hardware, but this vintage unit is a beauty.

Introduced in the 1930′s, the Bliley LD2 was a popular frequency standard for amateur radio operators. A 1935 advertisement in QST magazine claimed efficiency and extremely low drift (<8 ppm/°C), guaranteed operation, an improved holder, and a cost of only $4.80, or $82.79 in 2014 dollars.  This particular unit is calibrated at 3.9895 MHz (“3989.5 KC”), for a radio wavelength of about 75.2 m.
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Unlike most modern crystals, this type comes apart easily. Inside, two rectangular steel plates sandwich a thin slice of quartz crystal, all held pressed together with a simple spring.

If you’re interested to learn more, there’s a wealth of additional information about vintage crystals and the Bliley company available online, here.

Erector Rocket Launcher Set

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We recently acquired this beautiful Erector Rocket Launcher Set from 1958. While not quite complete, it is still tantalizing with its girders, nuts, bolts and motor. The printing on the metal box is beautiful.

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The motor is labeled “Erector Electric Engine” and features a clever mechanical gear shifter.

While our set did not come with instructions, there are online resources for vintage building sets, and Girders & Gears has a thorough description and pictures of a more complete set. They also have instructions available for download, which include the following practical warning:

CAUTION: Be sure there is no one in front of the launcher when the rocket is fired.

The “Three Fives” Discrete 555 Timer Kit

555 kit

We’re pleased to announce our newest kit, the “Three Fives” Kit, a kit to build your own 555 timer circuit out of discrete components. Here’s a way to re-create one of the most classic, popular, and all-around useful chips of all time.

The kit is a faithful and functional transistor-scale replica of the classic NE555 timer integrated circuit, one of the most classic, popular, and all-around useful chips of all time. The kit was designed and developed as a collaboration with Eric Schlaepfer, based on a previous version (pictured here), and adapted from the equivalent schematic in the original datasheets for the device.  There have been a few other examples of circuits like these (such as the one that we featured in our article about the 555 contest), but we really like how this one has come together.

555 kit

The kit is designed to resemble an (overgrown) integrated circuit, based around an extra-thick matte-finish printed circuit board. The stand— which gives the circuit board eight legs in the shape of DIP-packaged integrated circuit pins —is made from machined and formed semi-rigid PVC foam.

555 kit

To actually hook up to the giant 555, there are the usual solder connection points, but there are also thumbscrew terminal posts that you can use with bare wires, solder lugs, or alligator clips.

555 kit

One of the really cool things about having a unintegrated disintegrated discrete circuit like this is that you can actually hook up probes and monitor what happens at different places inside the circuit.

555 kit

So that’s our new “Three Fives” Kit (shown above with an original NE555 for scale). It’s not quite as big as our 555 footstool, nor as tasty as our edible version, but it’s a great little circuit, and it’s got legs.

Photomask Mirrors

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At our local Silicon Valley electronics surplus shops and electronics flea market, we frequently come across all sorts of bizarro semiconductor manufacturing paraphernalia. Here is one of those types that we have written about before, in our coaster project:

Photolithographic masks, or photomasks are clear templates used in semiconductor manufacturing. Typically, they are made of UV-grade fused silica and have a highly intricate chrome metal film pattern on one side.

The most commonly available masks are test patterns used for calibration, as production masks are guarded carefully. This particular one dates back to 1983!

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Now looking inside at it, it’s hardly a mask at all. It’s nearly fully silvered—perhaps a mask pulled out before the etching step of its process.

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If you look at an oblique angle, you will find a few incredibly detailed patterns, and some printed on markings. This one is marked “5.1 INCH ARRAY” across the top and “1447 3-OCT-83-13. 5” across the bottom.

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So, what to do with them? Since they don’t have the neat patterns that made those coasters so cool, we used some truss-head screws to mount them to the wall.

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And here we are then, using a couple of photolithographic mask as bathroom mirrors! (With a couple of units at different heights for different-height people.) It solves a couple of problems at once: how to display the beautiful ephemera of semiconductor manufacturing, and what to do about a soulless little extra bathroom at our shop that didn’t come with a mirror.