Broadcast Engineer at BellMedia, Computer history buff, compulsive deprecated, disparate hardware hoarder, R/C, robots, arduino, RF, and everything in between.
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Retrotechtacular: AT&T’s Hello Machine

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1ESSHow many Ma Bell employees does it take to build an ESS mainframe? This week, Retrotechtacular takes you into the more poetic recesses of the AT&T Archive to answer that very question. This wordless 1974 gem is an 11-minute exploration of the construction and testing of a Western Electric 1ESS. It begins with circuit board population and ends with lots of testing.

 

 

tree

The film is really quite groovy, especially the extreme closeups of wire wrapping and relay construction. The soundtrack is a string-heavy suite that moves you through the phases of bringing up the 1ESS while drawing parallels to the wires of communication. You may lose count of the punch down blocks and miles of cables, but there are surprisingly few mustaches.

[Thank you, Tijmen for sending this in]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

 


Filed under: Retrotechtacular
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EFF Launches Open Router Firmware

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Open Wireless Movement logo

The Electronic Frontier Foundation have released an alpha of their own Open Wireless Router Firmware as part of the Open Wireless Movement. This project aims to make it easier to share your wireless network with others, while maintaining security and prioritization of traffic.

We’ve seen a lot of hacks based on alternative router firmware, such as this standalone web radio. The EFF have based their router firmware off of CeroWRT, one of the many open source firmware options out there. At this time, the firmware package only targets the Netgear WNDR3800.

Many routers out there have guest modes, but they are quite limited and often have serious vulnerabilities. If you’re interested in sharing your wireless network, this firmware will help out by letting you share a specified amount of bandwidth. It also aims to have a secure web interface, and secure auto-update using Tor.

The EFF has announced this “pre-alpha hacker release” as a call for hackers who want to join in the fun. Development is happening over on Github, where you’ll find all of the source and issues.


Filed under: Network Hacks
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Demystifying NTSC Color And Progressive Scan

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NTSC

Black and white NTSC is simple – it can, and was, done with vacuum tubes for a long, long time. Color is just weird, though. It runs at 29.976 23.976 frames per second, uses different phases of the carrier for different colors, and generally takes a while to wrap your head around. [Sagar] is doing a series on the intricacies of NTSC, and the latest post deals with color and progressive scanning versus interlacing, or as it is better known, how classic game consoles and home computers generate video.

The test bed for [Sagar]‘s video experimentations is a circuit containing an ATMega16, a 4-bit shift register, and a 14.31818 MHz clock. This clock is much faster than the 3.579545 MHz clock in an NTSC carrier frequency – exactly four times as fast – allowing the shift register to output four different phases of the carrier frequency a 0°, 90°. 180°, and 270°. Playing with some of the pins on the ATMega in the circuit results in a palette pallet being generated on any old TV.

NTSC requires interlaced scanning, or sending an entire screen of even lines, then an entire screen of odd lines, at around 60 48 fields per second. The Nintendos and Segas of yesteryear didn’t bother with this, instead opting to send half the vertical resolution at double the frame rate. This is known as a progressive scan. [Sagar] found that this resulted in some image artifacts when displayed on a modern LCD, and moving back to an interlaced mode fixed the problem. All the code and files are up on the gits. If you’re feeling adventurous, this is exactly how projects like the Uzeboxhave created homebrew game consoles using little more than the ATMega found in [Sagar]‘s build.


Filed under: video hacks
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Quick and Dirty RFID Door Locks Clean up Nice

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homemade RFID Door Locks

[Shawn] recently overhauled his access control by fitting the doors with some RFID readers. Though the building already had electronic switches in place, unlocking the doors required mashing an aging keypad or pestering someone in an adjacent office to press a button to unlock them for you. [Shawn] tapped into that system by running some wires up into the attic and connecting them to one of two control boxes, each with an ATMega328 inside. Everything functions as you would expect: presenting the right RFID card to the wall-mounted reader sends a signal to the microcontroller, which clicks an accompanying relay that drives the locks.

You may recall [Shawn's] RFID phone tag hack from last month; the addition of the readers is the second act of the project. If you’re looking to recreate this build, you shouldn’t have any trouble sourcing the same Parallax readers or building out your own Arduino on a stick, either. Check out a quick walkthrough video after the jump.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, Microcontrollers
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Apple ][ Graphics as your Screensaver or Second Screen

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apple2-xscreensaver-weather-demo

apple2-xscreensaver-weather-demo

Hipsters rejoice, you can actually make those high-tech IPS panels look like crap. Really nostalgic crap. [Kaveen Rodrigo] wrote in to show how he displays weather data as his Apple ][ emulated screensaver.

2014-07-08-234300_1366x768_scrotHe's building on the Apple2 package that is part of the xscreensaver available on Linux systems. The program has an option flag that allows you to run another program inside of it. This can be just about anything including using it as your terminal emulator. [Adrian] recently sent us the screenshot shown here for our retro edition. He is running bash and loaded up freenet just to enjoy what it used to be like in the good old days.

In this case, [Kaveen] is using Python to pull in, parse, and print out a Yahoo weather json packet. Since it’s just a program that is called when the screensaver is launched, you can use it as such or just launch it manually and fill your second monitor whenever not in use.

We gave it a whirl, altering his code to take a tuple of zip codes. Every hour it will pull down the data and redraw the screen. But we’ve put enough in there that you’ll be able to replace it with your own data in a matter of minutes. If you do, post a screenshot and what you’re using it for in the comments.

Here’s our example code:

#!/usr/bin/env python2
# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
#
#  a2.py
#  Based on the work of Kaveen Rodrigo which can be found here:
#  http://geeknirvana.org/?p=4
#  The original carried the following license:
#  
#  Copyright 2014 Kaveen Rodrigo <kaveenr@KNET>
 &lt;kaveenr@knet&gt;
 #  
#  This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify
#  it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
#  the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or
#  (at your option) any later version.
#  
#  This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
#  but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
#  MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.  See the
#  GNU General Public License for more details.
#  
#  You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
#  along with this program; if not, write to the Free Software
#  Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor, Boston,
#  MA 02110-1301, USA.
#  
#  
 
import urllib2,json,time,os

locationCodes = (53716,91105,17201)
 
def getIt(postalCode):
        try:
                html = urllib2.urlopen("http://query.yahooapis.com/v1/public/yql?q=select%20item%20from%20weather.forecast%20where%20location%3D%22"+str(postalCode)+"%22&format=json").read()
                urllib2.urlopen(&quot;http://query.yahooapis.com/v1/public/yql?q=select%20item%20from%20weather.forecast%20where%20location%3D%22&quot;+str(postalCode)+&quot;%22&amp;format=json&quot;).read()
                return json.loads(html)
        except:
                print("Are print(&quot;Are you on the innernet?")
                innernet?&quot;)
                exit()

def main():
        while True:
		for code in locationCodes:
	                js = getIt(code)
	                print(js["query"]["results"]["channel"]["item"]["title"])
        	        print(js["query"]["results"]["channel"]["item"]["condition"]["text"]+" Temp "+js["query"]["results"]["channel"]["item"]["condition"]["temp"]+" F")
			 print(js[&quot;query&quot;][&quot;results&quot;][&quot;channel&quot;][&quot;item&quot;][&quot;title&quot;])
        	        print(js[&quot;query&quot;][&quot;results&quot;][&quot;channel&quot;][&quot;item&quot;][&quot;condition&quot;][&quot;text&quot;]+&quot; Temp &quot;+js[&quot;query&quot;][&quot;results&quot;][&quot;channel&quot;][&quot;item&quot;][&quot;condition&quot;][&quot;temp&quot;]+&quot; C&quot;)
			 print
			print
                time.sleep(3600)
		os.system('clear')
		print "                apple ]["
                &quot;                apple ][&quot;
                print
        return 0
if __name__ == '__main__':
        main()

Filed under: linux hacks, macs hacks
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Printing Text with a Chart Recorder

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A chart recorder printing 'Hello World'

Chart recorders are vintage devices that were used to plot analog values on paper. They’re similar to old seismometers which plot seismic waves from earthquakes. The device has a heated pen which moves across a piece of thermally sensitive paper. This paper is fed through the machine at a specified rate, which gives two dimensions of plotting.

[Marv] ended up getting a couple of discontinued chart recorders and figured out the interface. Five parallel signals control the feed rate of the paper, and an analog voltage controls the pen location. The next logical step was to hook up an Arduino to control the plotter.

However, once the device could plot analog values, [Marv] quickly looked for a new challenge. He wanted to write characters and bitmaps using the device, but this would require non-continuous lines. By adding a solenoid to lift the pen, he built a chart recorder printer.

After the break, check out a video of the chart recorder doing something it was never intended to do. If you happen to have one of these chart recorders, [Marv] included all of the code in his writeup to help you build your own.


Filed under: classic hacks
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