Old Tech Find – Orange Flirt

No, not a dig at the current US president, this was an unexpectedly awesome find at today’s car boot, a 1970 Flirt portable transistor radio in orange.

With the heavy rain last night there weren’t many stalls today, so to make the most of it we dug around in the many rummage boxes of the house clearance traders – I literally snatched this out and held on to it.

The colour and style grabbed me first, with that fantastic orange and squared-off dial it looks like the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard, but much smaller and with a speaker on top instead of the now-problematic confederate flag. Bundled with some old reel-to-reel tapes it cost me £2.

I do have a weakness for transistor radios, but I haven’t done a conversion since this one which – somehow – was over six  years ago. This one is now high on my list for a really simple rebuild – chop out the innards, bung in a Pi Zero, Speaker HAT and LiPo battery and we should have a cool portable internet radio for the bathroom. How hard could it be?

 

1963 Pi Tourer RetroPie Console

This 1963 Ever Ready car radio now has a new life playing RetroPie games!

It has a Raspberry Pi 3 and Picade controller inside, as well as a Pimoroni Blinkt that makes the front panel glow brightly in a range of colours, depending on what emulator is playing.

The fun doesn’t stop there though, thanks to its inbuilt handle and easy docking ports the Pi Tourer can be carried to other rooms, friends’ houses or anywhere a spare HDMI port can be found.

I couldn’t resist this 1963 radio at the car boot earlier in the year – it cost a princely £4. It was obviously not your normal car stereo however, as the underside had its own inbuilt speaker.

Research showed it had been a dual-purpose device, so you could remove it from your car and use it just like a normal portable radio. I decided to recreate this function, making it so it could “dock” with the workbench but still be easily removed and carried around to other retro gaming locations.

This project was as much fun to build as it is to play with, you can read the full story on Instructables and Hackster. The code I used to control the Blinkt colours based on the RetroPie emulator selection is all documented on GitHub.

For once this project turned out exactly as planned, there was just enough space in the case and I didn’t have to compromise on features. There’s one thing missing though – controls for Player 2! RetroPie is a ton of fun but playing against the kids takes it to another level altogether, apart from when they beat me, which is most of the time. For the next project we’re going to be building a controller for Player 2, upgrading an original 80s joystick and making it RetroPie-Ready.

Stay tuned for updates on that and be sure to subscribe on YouTube to catch the video when it’s released, probably around the 1st of September.

Polling the Pi Population

The last couple of times I’ve been working on projects I’ve found it really tricky to tell them apart on the home network, especially when using SSH to connect. I decided to document them once and for all, noting down the Pi version, software and IP address. I was surprised to find that I’m currently on Pi number 22, with a couple of others lined up for future projects!

“Pi Charts” may have been added to this spreadsheet.

To be fair many of these are doing menial jobs around the house like looking out for the postman, monitoring the cats or dishing up digital entertainment of some sort. Many have also been sourced second-hand on the likes of Gumtree – I just can’t resist a bargain Pi.

It was a fun exercise though, and worthwhile – making sure they were all up to date, had their default passwords changed etc. I think I have enough to see us through the Summer projects at least.

The blue streak conceals the current Pi project, a lovely looking dual-purpose appliance from way back in 1963. If it isn’t destroyed in the process we should be painting it this weekend & tidying up the final code, pics & video coming soon!

PiNG Doorbell in The Magpi & Hackspace This Month!

A double trip to W.H. Smith for the kids & I this month, as the PiNG Video Doorbell is covered in both The Magpi (Issue 83) and Hackspace (Issue 20)!

There’s a guy in the shop off to my right giving us a really odd look.

You can get downloadable .pdf versions at the links above, but we just love the browsability of the printed magazines.

The HackSpace pic is larger than life size!

The MagPi has a great feature on the shiny new Raspberry Pi 4, lots of excitement about that here and hopefully a “monster” themed build using a Pi 4 4GB coming from us in the Autumn.

HackSpace is holding its own in the coffee table stakes though, the article on re-purposing aluminium cans went down especially well. Maybe because they’re so readily available in this household? Who knows.

Old Tech Find – Unigraph Barometer

A truly great find on Gumtree this evening, a “Unigraph” desktop barometer from the 1930s. I just had to have this cool-looking thing as soon as I saw the ad, I drove round and picked it up straightaway, £10.

Up top it has a Fahrenheit temperature display, with a manual date indicator on the right of the (deco style?) stand, but it’s the barometer display that really attracted me. Instead of having a needle that meanders from Fair to Stormy this thing has what appears to be a decorated paper drum inside, that rotates to display a weather scene matching the current barometric pressure. An amazing data visualisation for the time!

The only slight problem is – it seems to be working perfectly. Both the temperature and pressure drums are wiggling fairly freely. I had great visions of keeping the visuals the same and recreating the mechanism with servos and weather API calls, illuminating the case from the inside and swapping the ratty date cards for an e-ink display!

I’ll have to keep an eye on it over the coming days as it gets used to the rarefied climate in my office. If it doesn’t change with the weather – well it’s coming apart.

 

 

New Project! 1970s E-Ink @YouTube Counter

This iconic digital clock from the 1970s now has a new life stylishly displaying YouTube statistics. It’s powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero and harnesses a simple Python script to retrieve Subscriber and View numbers for the Old Tech. New Spec. channel from the YouTube Data API, displaying the results on a Pimoroni Inky pHAT display.

The clock’s original alarm on/off switch now toggles the e-ink display between Views and Subscribers, and an inbuilt LED glows up the translucent red plastic around the display as it updates.

It’s a fun & practical addition to my office, sitting quietly on my desk speaker, and seeing the stats slowly increase helps keep me motivated to make more projects and videos. It also won First Prize in the recent Instructables Internet of Things Contest!

I bought this clock a year or two back, bundled with an old robot toy, and it was in daily use until it went pop recently – when it joined the ranks of broken Old Tech in the workshop awaiting conversion. The build was straightforward and involved a lot of precise measuring, as well as my favourite Raspberry Pi companion, Lego bricks!

I’m really pleased with the result and it’s a lovely looking little thing – nice coverage on the Hackster Blog too!

The project is fully documented on Instructables and Hackster as usual, the code is on GitHub and of course there’s a YouTube video showing the code & build, with the normal criticism from my feline friends.

 

 

New Project! The @Raspberry_Pi PiNG Video Doorbell

The PiNG Video Doorbell is powered by a Raspberry Pi and is retro-stylishly cased in a 1986 Intercom and an old Sony cassette player.

When the doorbell button is pressed the Pi makes a high-quality video call using Google Duo, which can be answered on a phone, tablet or computer, letting you see and speak to callers when you’re away from home (or at home but trapped under a cat). It works over WiFi and cellular, so you can even answer the door when you’re out pounding the streets.

It also sounds a standard wireless door chime inside the house as a fail-safe, in case the call can’t be taken.

The doorbell unit is fitted outside the house, with a companion base unit inside, connected with 6-core alarm cable. The base unit houses a Pi 3B+ and is housed in a stripped-out cassette player.

It works amazingly well and the Google Duo sound and video is smooth – I took a call from a delivery person while out walking yesterday lunchtime  which was very exciting!

I started this project in early March and finished it at the Easter weekend, and it’s been an absolute barrel of fun, I’d highly recommend playing around with Google Duo on a Raspberry Pi! If you have a Pi and some bits lying around you can probably make something similar in a couple of hours.

There are full project write-ups with instructions, photos and code at the links below:

Instructables: https://www.instructables.com/id/1986-Raspberry-Pi-Video-Doorbell

Hackster: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/1986-ping-video-doorbell-30b666

 

 

Geordie Score

We’re just back from a weekend up North, retracing the steps of my youth and catching up with the family. The bingo hall I worked in and bars I loved are sadly gone, but one important historical site remains – ESR Electronic Components.

You could make pixel art on those component drawers, there are so many.

It’s an independent electronics shop and as you can see from the wall of over 2000 drawers behind the counter they have a comprehensive inventory.

As well as being an exciting shopping opportunity (stoked by caffeine  & Donkey Kong at Cullercoats Coffee 3 doors down) it was a sentimental one – I bought my first ever electronics kit in this very shop, nearly 30 years ago. After clumsily soldering it together with my buddy Steve we had literally hours of fun with the FM Transmitter , tuning the stereos in Dixons to the right frequency then standing outside and trolling the customers via the FM microphone.

The shop exterior hasn’t changed much since the 80s. Good.

It means a lot that shops like this are still in business, especially so in a fairly quiet seaside town where so much else has changed. They’ve clearly moved with the times though and likely do a lot of business online now, but for me there’s enormous value in being able to walk in with a list and have the full “four candles” retail experience.

Bag of goodies from ESR

I was pretty restrained in there but scored some connectors, a sweet membrane keypad and most importantly several metres of 8 core alarm cable. They had loads of kits & components I’ve not seen elsewhere too, many made by Velleman, as well as full ranges of things like project boxes, harder to find now that the Maplin stores have closed.

Components, Coffee and Coastline within metres of each other, a perfect trip!

For me the whole nostalgia + shopping trip was one of the highlights of the break – I think the family up north may see us more often in future!

 

Coming Soon

The workshop has embraced the Spring thaw, the office is freshly renovated and now I’m elbow-deep in a brand new Raspberry Pi project, hoping to release the YouTube video & detailed write-ups on Instructables and Hackster in the next couple of weeks if all goes well. I’ve really missed the smell of solder and melted plastic over the winter months.

Click click click

I’m keeping a lid on the exact details for now, but as Wallace said in The Wrong Trousers it’s hopefully going to be a “valuable addition to our modern lifestyle”.

Arr I spy two pirates

It’s a pretty straightforward build, with easily modified Python code, some moderate hardware hacking, and more than a sprinkle of Google.

Some hacking, some chopping

Stay tuned for further updates and more teaser photos!

Really Old Tech

A fascinating Old Tech find at the car boot this week – a wax cylinder “Dictaphone Cameo Model” office transcribing machine.

Not a robotic wine rack

It would have been used in an office around the 1930s, likely in combination with other emerging technology like the telephone and the typewriter. It must have been quite the leap forward in efficiency at the time, though it seems equal parts clunky & bulky now.

Under the hood

It retains a lot of elegance though, and with those castors you can imagine it being dragged from one desk to another. It’s missing its control pedals, flexible speaking tube and horn, but the mechanism looks sound and the recording/playback head moves freely as it would have run up & down a wax cylinder around eighty years ago.

Take a letter…

I’ve not decided what to do with it as yet, its purchase coincided with my recent office renovations so for now it’s just for display.

It’d be nice to build a replacement speaking tube for it though, and maybe in a non-destructive way adapt it to record voice memos and upload / transcribe them, that’d be a lot of fun and possibly a straightforward conversion.