Converting a Seeburg 3WA wallbox into a remote for a modern music player


Dr. Scott M. Baker wrote an article detailing how he converted a Seeburg 3WA wallbox into a media player for his homebuilt audio player:

A bit of background. These Wallboxes were used as remotes in diners and other locations back in the 1950s. You put your nickel, dime, or quarter into the Wallbox, which racks up some credits. Then you select the song you want and the Wallbox sends a signal to the Jukebox, which adds your selection to the queue. Soon thereafter your music is playing through the diner. I’m too young to have experienced these in person when they were state of the art, but I do have an appreciation for antique and retro projects.
A new fad is to convert these wallboxes into remotes for your home audio system, be it Sonos or something else. I have my own homebuilt audio system, basically an augmented Pandora player, so my goal was to use the wallbox to control that.

See the full post on his blog here.

Check out the video after the break.

DEC PDP 11 / 24 CPU CARD: State of the art design from 1979


DEC PDP 11/24 CPU card teardown from Electronupdate:

This is a cpu card from a class of computers known as mini-computers.
By the late 1970’s DEC was about to be eclipsed by the microcomputer. At the same time this card was in production the 68000 and 8086 16-bit class micro processors were also in the market: their superior cost would soon take much of DEC’s low end market.
The card uses their FONZ-11 LSI chip set. Most interestingly the CPU instructions are micro-coded and placed into separate chips: the instruction set could be expanded at will by adding more “303E”s. Typically this would be for a floating-point instruction set.

More details at Electronupdate blog.

Check out the video after the break.

Repairing the card reader for a 1960s mainframe: cams, relays and a clutch


Ken Shirriff writes:

I recently helped repair the card reader for the Computer History Museum’s vintage IBM 1401 mainframe. In the process, I learned a lot about the archaic but interesting electromechanical systems used in the card reader. Most of the card reader is mechanical, with belts, gears, and clutches controlling the movement of cards through the mechanism. The reader has a small amount of logic, but instead of transistorized circuits, the logic is implemented with electromechanical relays.1 Timing signals are generated by spinning electromechanical cams that generate pulses at the proper rotation angles. This post explains how these different pieces work together, and how a subtle timing problem caused the card reader to fail.

See the full post on his blog.

Yellowstone: Cloning the Apple II Liron


Steve writes:

FPGA-based disk control for Apple II is finally working! Six months ago, I began designing a universal disk controller card for the Apple II family. Apple made a bewildering number of different disk controller cards in the 1970s and 80s, and my hope was to replace the IWM chip (Integrated Wozniak Machine) and other assorted ICs typically found on the cards, and substitute a modern FPGA. With a little luck, that would make it possible to clone any vintage disk controller card – some of which are now rare and expensive. It would also enable a single card to function as many different disk controllers, simply by modifying the FPGA configuration. With the successful cloning of a Liron disk controller, the first major step towards those goals has been made.

More details at Big Mess o Wires site.

Check out the video after the break.

Yellowstone JTAG debugging


A follow-up to the FPGA-based disk controller for Apple II post, Steve writes:

After a month of inactivity, I finally returned to my unfinished Yellowstone disk controller project to investigate the JTAG programming problems. Yellowstone is an FPGA-based disk controller card for the Apple II family, that aims to emulate a Liron disk controller or other models of vintage disk controller. It’s still a work in progress.
Last month I discovered some JTAG problems. With the Yellowstone card naked on my desk, and powered from an external 5V supply, JTAG programming works fine.

More details at Big Mess o’ Wires.

Xerox Alto’s 3 Mb/s Ethernet: Building a gateway with a BeagleBone


Ken Shirriff documented his experience building a gateway using the BeagleBone single-board computer to communicate with the Alto’s Ethernet we covered previously:

I decided to build a gateway that would allow the Alto to communicate with a modern system. The gateway would communicate with the Alto using its obsolete 3Mb/s Ethernet, but could also communicate with the outside world. This would let us network boot the Alto, transfer files to and from the Alto and backup disks. I expected this project to take a few weeks, but it ended up taking a year.

See the full post at Ken Shirriff’s blog.

FPGA-based disk controller for Apple II


Steve Chamberlin over at Big Mess o’Wires has been working on an FPGA-based disk controller for Apple II, which he call Yellowstone:

Apple II disk controller cards are weird, there are a crazy number of different types, and many are rare and expensive. Can an FPGA-based solution save the day for retro collectors? You bet! Nearly all the existing disk controllers connect the same 8-bit bus to the same 19-pin disk interface, so a universal clone is merely a question of replacing the vintage 80s guts of the card with a modern reprogrammable FPGA. This hypothetical universal controller card could connect to almost any Apple II disk drive, or a Floppy Emu. Here’s my first attempt.

More details at Big Mess o’ Wires homepage.

Repairing a 1960s mainframe: Fixing the IBM 1401’s core memory and power supply


Ken Shirriff wrote a great article describing the repair process of  the vintage IBM 1401 mainframe computer:

The problem started when the machine was powered up at the same time someone shut down the main power, apparently causing some sort of destructive power transient. The computer’s core memory completely stopped working, making the computer unusable. To fix this we had to delve into the depths of the computer’s core memory circuitry and the power supplies.

See the full post on his blog.

Vintage MIDI: Roland MT-32, Roland SC-55, HardMPU, and an Xi 8088

Dr. Scott Baker writes:

In this video, I decided to upgrade my home built PC from AdLib sound to MIDI. I tried out a couple different midi modules, the Roland MT-32 and the Roland SC-55. I learned that I’d need an MPU-401 or compatible ISA interface, and I explored the alternatives, eventually settling on the HardMPU by Ab0tj. Using the HardMPU schematic, I built a board, programmed the microcontroller, and tried out Vintage games on my Xi 8088. I also wrote my own Midi player to play .MID files using MPU-401 intelligent mode.

See the full post on his blog.