It’s hard to keep up the project momentum over the winter, without secondhand fairs to root around every weekend, but online sources can still throw up a bargain – in this case a nearby pair of CMS Super 8+ arcade controllers – for free!
I love to “pounce” on this kind of bargain, and met the nice man a few hours later to collect the merchandise – one slightly used controller and one boxed, apparently mint. Part of the fun of Old Tech finds is doing a bit of research when I get them home (best to wait, Gumtree missions often go sideways) – not much to learn about these online though!
From the box I gathered they were obviously designed for PC use, having 15-pin connectors, and Greek in origin. Despite the retro style they’re definitely post-2000 as the box has both a web and hotmail address. A poke around the wayback machine narrowed this down further, to around 2002.
They seem like great controllers, very clicky little microswitches and solidly built. It’s amazing to find one of these given their apparent scarcity (outside Greek ebay), but to have a pair and for free makes me feel an obligation to build something cool with them.
Connectivity shouldn’t be a problem, a Player X board or two, or even proper gameport adaptors will get RetroPie linked up, the question is what to build? I suspect there’s enough space inside for a pi zero, to make an all-in-one portable console, but having a matching pair makes me think bigger – much bigger.
I’m thinking of some kind of two-player furniture, either a side-by-side coffee-table job with a big screen or a taller head-to-head “cocktail table”, for the likes of Ms Pac Man. Both of these builds have been slightly done to death but I think working around these cool controllers would be a really interesting challenge. Definitely one for the warmer weather though!
Another muddy car boot this morning, but well worth slipping and sliding for the gems we managed to pick up.
First a crusty but classy Dansette Companion radio, from way back in 1964, which cost £2. It’s seen better days but the colour is still really strong and the tuning dial is working, this would make an amazing portable internet radio.
I’m thinking the original dial could be repurposed to switch between favourite stations, and those great big rotary controls on the top corners could be converted to microswitches (as seen in the Flirt Pi). With the amount of space inside a full-size speaker and Pi could be used, for better audio quality and quicker boot times – this may be the perfect project to make use of the PiJuice rechargeable battery.
Next, a Nokia 3650 mobile phone, in incredible condition, also £2. Dating from 2002 it had one of their “experimental” keyboard layouts – this one even came with a 16mb SD card and unscratched integrated camera . After a battery swap and a charge it seems to be working fine, I just need to find a full-size SIM card for it. It’s a very tactile handset and I could well see myself using it for work calls.
Today’s star buy however was a Pioneer CT-W 205R cassette deck, slightly risky at £10. I have a small vintage Pioneer collection, most of which has been in our family since it was new in the 70s, and I’ve been after just the right tape deck for several years now.
Most of the old “silver” ones have perished belts and take a lot of tlc, but this is a later model and works perfectly – it’s almost identical to the unit that saw me through university in the early 90s. Sitting in front of it & playing the cassettes I bought & made in the 80s earlier was just like stepping into a time machine, something about the buttons, sound quality and VU meter provoked a strong and warm nostalgic response, perfect for an autumnal Saturday afternoon.
With Autumn coming the decent car boot sales are drawing to a close, so we’ve hit them pretty hard this weekend to stock up on source materials for winter projects.
The nice boxy old Orion tape player at the back cost £1, and the wood effect Steepletone transistor radio on the right was 10p.
The Hitachi personal cassette player is this week’s star find however, and I didn’t even leave the house to grab it, it was a gift from mother-in-law Rosemary. It’s a really lovely little thing, early to mid 80s and very solid, part-metal construction with a double headphone socket.
Within about 5 minutes I realised that the clear window in the tape door is exactly (and I mean to the mm) the same size as a Raspberry Pi HAT. This discovery bumped the little cassette player right to the top of the project list (sorry cuckoo clock), and I started thinking straightaway about what kind of HAT would look good in there.
The headphones are fairly toasty but unmistakably 80s, just missing the foam pads. I’m not 100% what the big orange button was for, I assume it was just a locking switch that would break the connection to the phones and act as a mute button – innovative!
Parts are on order, I hope to have the little Hitachi project finished in a couple of weeks (though it still has 2 other completed projects in front of it to be published first).
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?
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.
A fascinating Old Tech find at the car boot this week – a wax cylinder “Dictaphone Cameo Model” office transcribing machine.
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.
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.
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.
Another recent car boot find costing £2, a 1986 tabletop #OutRun game (or what’s left of it). This thing is absolutely trashed cosmetically, but has a strong look and an absolute ton of potential.
The main controls are a start button, high-low shifter on the left and that cool wheel. Amazingly it still kind of works, it chirps into life with a few beeps and bloops when you press the button and the LCD screen still partly shows the iconic OutRun car you’d control.
To be honest it was only when I took the LCD closeup pic today and saw the car that I realised it was an OutRun game, from there looking closely at the remaining sticker on the wheel I could just make out “Run”, confirming my hopes.
This would have been a really cool game at the time, and after researching what it looked like originally it’s accelerated quickly from the “to do” shelf onto the workbench.
And here it is in the 1989 Argos catalogue:
The thing is I just loved OutRun as a teenager, both in the arcades and on my Spectrum, playing Forza Horizon 4 with the kids yesterday really reminded me of those days. And oddly enough the cassette I used as a base for the “Old Tech. New Spec” branding is my very own original copy.
So here’s the plan.
Have it apart and figure out how the original controls work
Get the controls working with RetroPie
Possibly install an Adafruit Joy Bonnet in the centre of the wheel (to allow other games to be played, Mario Kart 64 runs great on a Pi 3 Model B+)
Install a 5″ 4:3 LCD TV in place of the existing LCD screen
Make some new bodywork, wheels etc and paint the whole thing, making some decals like the original.
It’ll be a decent-sized project but fun to build and well worth it to have my own unique bar-top OutRun game. Stay tuned for updates!
Back in the summer heatwave I picked up this roasted old game console at the car boot for £3 – it’s an Interton VC 4000, an early German-made 8-bit cartridge system from way back in 1978.
There’s not much left of it, but it was fascinating to read up on its history – it looks like 40 separate games were available, and each of them had multiple variations. Obviously with the limited graphics you’d have to use your imagination a bit for titles like Winter Sports and Outer Space Combat.
What really attracted me to the piece though was that analogue controller, with its tactile joystick and 14 buttons. Some of the games at the time included a cardboard overlay you’d put over the buttons, which I really like the idea of – and that explains why they don’t have any obvious markings.
I learned more about this old console from VectrexRoli’s Youtube Video – he gives a tour of the features and some of the games, with a working console and a charming Austrian accent.
The joystick feels like one you’d see on an R/C plane controller, and with so many button options I think this would be ideal for controlling a Pi-based robot, ideally via bluetooth. It’s in stasis on the “to do” shelf for now until the right project comes along.
Not a bad car boot last weekend, lots of sellers and not too many gawkers, which is how we like it. We scored some Old Tech on the very first stall, first a vintage Screen Pointer for £1, very similar to the one we picked up a few weeks ago, which will make a nice little project in the future.
The standout find though was an early 1980s personal stereo, a Saisho PS-121. It also set me back £1 and is almost identical to the first one I owned. Back in 1984 I went on my first “big” school trip to Paris – a not inconsiderable 23 hour coach trip from Newcastle. With the growing popularity of personal stereos the school suggested that we all bring one along, to help keep us entertained on the journey.
Of course Paris was the ideal place to expand my tape collection, and I picked up a couple of Jean Michel Jarre cassettes (french versions, ooh la la!) while we were there, listening to them throughout the trip. It was really nostalgic to dig out the original tape and give it a play (amazingly the stereo works perfectly), sounding even better through the Walkman headphones I snagged a few weeks ago.
As we left the sale I spotted a pretty old TV Turntable, which I’ve been after for a while – I need to present the Raspberry Pi VCR at the upcoming Raspberry Fields event, but it’s really tricky as it weighs a ton and has both a screen on the back and controls on the front – this turntable will hopefully make things much easier!
This slightly toasty early 80s cassette player was picked up alongside the Crown recorder at Saturday’s car boot – £5 for both (bundlemania as the kids call it).
As usual I plugged it in out of curiosity and stone me it worked, though the pitch varies a bit, probably a worn out belt in there somewhere. I was fascinated to listen to the tape that was left in the Crown portable player, it contained some music taped off Radio Norfolk (paused at just the right points when the DJ piped up) but also some dictations from what I firmly believe to be a gas appliance salesman.
I’ve not had a working cassette player for a while and I’m really enjoying digging out our old mix tapes, from the days when we’d keep a stack in the glovebox of the car.
The sound quality can’t compare to the likes of Spotify of course, but for background music in the workshop it’s a tactile and fitting addition. I think it’s safe from the screwdriver (for now).