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I have a large collection of vintage tech, including 1900s multimeters, electrical curiosities, and the occasional absurdist vintage toy. My favorite thing about collecting this stuff is posting an obscure item on Twitter, and learning the most specific details about it in the replies. It turns out this "Benign Girl" toy phone I found in a dollar store is well known in the circuit bending community.
Recently, I was excited to find a FishTV at a garage sale. It's a CRT screen with a fish-shaped camera on a long wire for looking underwater while ice fishing. I know I can tie all kinds of tiny wireless cameras to strings and put them in the water, but CRT screens are always fun to hack because of their delightful mix of analog and electrical components. It reminds me of this vintage TV turned into an oscilloscope and this hand built video card. I’m always amazed at how hacking vintage tech brings together the electronics community through experimentation and remixing, like running Doom on a pregnancy test. With all the hacking, mixing, and matching, it's sometimes hard to tell what is real and what is fake.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~15% of opens) was Refuse Uline, a microsite with alternatives to the ubiquitous packaging supplier founded by a family that funds extreme right-wing causes. In the Member's Slack, we've been chatting about the ways tech wear and the tech industry are intertwined.
Planning & Strategy.
- Mars tends to hog the spotlight, but there's a dedicated group of folks in the Venus Society advocating for the exploration of Venus. There have been over 40 missions to Venus since the 1960s. In 1967, Venera 4 and Mariner 5 confirmed Venus was a hot, dry, desert planet, which seemed to detour popular interest. However, there is a case to be made about terraforming Venus instead of Mars.
- My doctoral research focuses on nationalist images of space flight, which has led me to the High Frontier, a breakdown of the US pro-space movement from 1972-84, exploring its social, mechanical, and political challenges. Canada's vision of space was focused on satellites and has featured proudly on stamps since the first 1966 stamp of the Alouette 1. As far back as 1962, China produced posters of Taikonauts that boast some adorable space babies and pets.
- Mercury astronauts ate their highly engineered preflight meals at “Bea’s Diner,” a purpose-built facility near the crew quarters. Beatrice Finkelstein was responsible for the meals aboard the Mercury space flights, but did more than just feed the astronauts - she also provided them with emotional support, and was a key media contact. These days, astronauts eat food that is either dehydrated, thermostabilized by heat treatment, or preserved by exposure to radiation. Irradiation kills microbes but does not make food radioactive!
Making & Manufacturing.
- The Spark-O-Phone uses a 25 kV flyback power supply and capacitors to create a xylophone-like musical instrument that makes notes from the sounds of sparks resonating inside tubes.
- 62 miles outside of LA, America’s Aerospace Valley is home to Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works aircraft design and production programs. The facility produced the U-2 spy plane, which collects images from 70,000 feet; the F-117 Nighthawk, the first stealth fighter; and the SR-71 Blackbird, an aircraft that could fly at speeds greater than Mach 3. This breakdown of the Blackbird cockpit shows off all of its amazing features.
- This tiny train set uses clever PCB traces as an electromagnet that drives the cars around the track. It reminds me of Carl Bugeja’s flexible PCB motors.
- Usagi Electronics created a blown up version of the 555 timer (one of the most famous integrated circuits ever created) using only vacuum tubes. This video compares how vacuum tubes and transistors work, and this 1940s documentary is a great summary of vacuum tube history.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- The HP‑65, introduced by Hewlett Packard in 1974, was the very first handheld programmable calculator. In 1975 an HP‑65 calculator was carried into orbit aboard the American half of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. There were five major maneuvers needed for Apollo’s rendezvous with Soyuz; calculations were made simultaneously by the onboard Apollo Guidance computer and by computers at Mission Control in the Real-Time Computer Complex, and were then confirmed with the HP-65.
- Arm China has apparently gone rogue with CEO Allen Wu remaining in power despite being formally fired. Arm has downplayed these claims and maintains they have a successful working relationship with their Chinese counterpart. As it stands Arm cannot license their IP in China without the Allen Wu controlled entity.
- An interesting lecture analyzing popular footage of the Chernobyl disaster by MIT Professor of Nuclear Science Michael Short.
- The HX-63 is an electro-mechanical cipher device used to encrypt and decrypt messages, similar to the famous Enigma machine used by the Allies in World War II. Released in 1963, the HX-63 had about 10,600 possible key combinations - equivalent to a 2,000-bit binary key, whereas today 128- and 256-bit keys are typical. The HX-63 is pretty incredible, using nine removable rotors and a modificator array of 41 rotary switches, each with 41 positions, to mechanically encrypt messages.
Distribution & Logistics.
- Energy Vault uses cranes to stack heavy composite blocks into towers when electricity is cheap. When energy is needed, the blocks are lowered back to the ground, with the kinetic energy converted back to electricity. Energy storage is a key piece in the global energy crisis.
- Manifest is an interactive toolkit that allows researchers to view and analyze global supply chains. My favorite is their reconstruction of the supply chain for the Western Electric candlestick style telephones of the late 1920s.
- Due to recent increases in shipping costs, Chinese businesses are paying premium rates to return containers, making it more profitable to send empty boxes than to refill them. In an industry that has typically been reliant on the broker to make a deal, digital solutions offer another path to help buyers and sellers. Digital platforms work by connecting buyers with suppliers near to them to reduce costs. Small businesses might use Alibaba to assist in securing suppliers, while larger companies might need services to analyze the market and data-based purchasing decisions through data and intelligence services.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- This list of impressive geological structures around the universe is amazing. My favorite is the coastline on Titan’s sea of liquid methane, Ligeia Mare, which has shorelines that extend for over 3,000 km.
- Speckle patterns are visual patterns that appear in reflections of monochromatic light, such as laser light. Reflections occur on diffuse materials such as paper, rough surfaces, airborne dust, or cloudy liquids. This experiment uses a laser pointer to detect when surfaces have been touched through speckle pattern image analysis.
- Twinkies have been an iconic American snack since the 1930s, and this documentary explores their rise and fall.
- A great timeline and deep dive on why hyperlinks are blue.
- A really wild study showed how microscopic roundworms share memories by swapping fragments of RNA.
- Beatboxing in an MRI is bizarre and hypnotic to watch.
p.s. - I’d love to chat about outer space propaganda and living off Earth! Send me an email.
p.p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here’s what we’re doing about it.