10 June 2021

Early digital scale with Nixie tubes

Italiana Macchi Mach 55
Until 6 months ago I had no idea that in early 1970's existed digital scales that displayed information with Nixie tubes. That was the beginning of the transition from "analog" to digital weighting at retail shops.

In mid-2020 I saw one scale for sale on eBay which sprung my curiosity. It was a Italiana Macchi model "Mach 55". Not much has been written on Internet about these quite rare devices, and the most comprehensive discussion so far was on tubeclockdb forum from year 2012-2016.

Those devices were probably obsoleted in a decade and their resilience to time travels was heavily affected by their inherent weight.

Considering that a Mach 55 contains about 30 Nixie tubes, I had to own one: the hunt began, for this or similar models (which consists of setting up alerts on online marketplaces). One condition turned out to be compulsory: the scale for sale has to be picked up in person because it weights 30 kg or more!

By the way, Italiana Macchi (Italian) and Bizerba (German) are still active in the weighting sector!

24 May 2021

La forza di Lorentz alla maturità (esperimento)

Il testo in italiano sull'esperimento con la forza di Lorentz è poco più sotto.

I have been contacted by a father to help his son with the high-school graduation project (you know, the school exam when you are 18-19 years old). I will explain few options to visualize the Lorentz force in my native language.

INTRO

Bene ragazzi. La teoria sulla forza di Lorentz l'avete studiata a scuola. Se siete qui è perché vi servono delle indicazioni su come poterla visualizzare su un sistema casalingo, giusto?

Fino al primo decennio degli anni 2000 in tutte le case c'era un ingombrante generatore di fascio di elettroni: la televisione a tubo catodico (mi piace immaginarlo detto con la voce di Fantozzi). Anche detto TV CRT dall'acronimo inglese. Gli ultimi esemplari sono stati venduti nel 2013, dopodiché l'avvento della TV digitale terrestre (DTT), gli scomodi decoder e poi ancora il passaggio al DTT-4k ne hanno decretato l'inesorabile tramonto e scomparsa dalle nostre case.

Oggi - 2021 - queste TV si trovano nel mercato dell'usato al prezzo delle patate, se non gratis, quindi sono ottime per realizzare un mini-laboratorio casalingo in assoluta economia. Consiglio di puntare ai modelli più piccoli, che sono più maneggevoli.

Altri oggetti con tubo catodico erano i monitor per computer e gli oscilloscopi, il cui prezzo è più elevato di una TV, anche se si tratta di pezzi tecnologicamente obsoleti. Ho in serbo una variante tascabile di questo esperimento, documentata al fondo.

TV CRT

Problema 1: serve un segnale. Accendendo oggi una TV analogica si vedrà solo il rumore di fondo sul quale la forza di Lorentz sarà poco evidente. Ma ci sono alcune possibilità:

  1. le vecchie TV accettano un segnale a radiofrequenza analogico (introvabile);
  2. spesso hanno una presa SCART per il collegamento al videoregistratore/decoder;
  3. hanno un menù in sovra-impressione.

Scartata la 1), per la 2) potete cercare in casa un oggetto che genera un segnale video composito da iniettare nella SCART come le prime macchine fotografiche o videocamere digitali compatte (attenzione che serve il cavo!). La libreria TVout di Arduino può fare al caso vostro se ve la sentite di pacioccare con l'elettronica (o se aggiunge valore al vostro elaborato).

La soluzione 3) invece mi piace tantissimo: basta avere il telecomando della TV per attivare la visualizzazione di un quadro con delle comode informazioni statiche.

Problema 2: invocare Lorentz e spostare il fascio.

L'immagine su uno schermo CRT viene costruita colpendo lo schermo con un fascio di elettroni, riga dopo riga, pixel dopo pixel. A differenza dell'esperimento di laboratorio dove il fascio giace su una semiretta, qui si sposta velocemente per costruire l'immagine, ma poco importa.

Portando un bel magnete davanti al vetro dello schermo l'immagine dovrebbe deformarsi. Se la TV è a colori, cambieranno anche i colori dell'area interessata. Su uno schermo piccolo il fascio avrà meno energia e sarà più sensibile alla forza di Lorentz. Provate anche a mettere il magnete sul fianco dello schermo, e a girarlo.

Attenzione. Il tubo a raggi catodici funziona con tensioni letali quindi sconsiglio vivissimamente di aprire l'oggetto per posizionare il magnete in altri punti del tubo. Inoltre i condensatori restano carichi per ore dopo aver staccato la spina, quindi non aprite la TV appena spenta. Uomo avvisato, mezzo salvato.

MONITOR PER PC

Ammesso di trovarne ancora in giro, il monitor per computer a tubo catodico ha un ingresso VGA (connettore blu) e può essere usato anche con i computer attuali, se dotati di uscita VGA. Mal che vada si dovrà costruire un semplice circuito con Arduino che visualizzi una informazione statica.

OSCILLOSCOPIO

Un oscilloscopio funzionate, se impostato correttamente, visualizza una linea orizzontale: il fascio di elettroni viene fatto scorrere da sinistra a destra in continuazione, sull'asse delle ascisse. Se si applica un segnale all'ingresso lo strumento inizia a disegnarlo variando la posizione del fascio sull'asse delle ordinate, come se usassimo una matita su un foglio. Quindi un oscilloscopio "a riposo" è sufficiente a giocare con la forza di Lorentz.

Tra l'altro la traccia si può spostare sull'asse Y per studiare gli effetti della forza nelle zone periferiche.

VARIANTE TASCABILE

Ed eccoci alla fine, con la variante tascabile.

Negli anni 1970 sono stati introdotti sul mercato dei display funzionanti con lo stesso principio dei tubi catodici: un filamento riscaldato che emette elettroni all'interno di un involucro di vetro con il vuoto spinto e un target con fosfori su cui far atterrare gli elettroni in modo da illuminarlo. A differenza del tubo catodico dove il fascio di elettroni viene deviato per via elettrostatica o magnetica, nei display VFD è l'area da illuminare ad attrarre a sé le nostre particelle negative.

Bene, siccome ci sono elettroni liberi attirati verso una zona ben delimitata, è possibile deviarli con la forza di Lorentz producendo un effetto visibile.

Ma quale dispositivo ha queste caratteristiche? Una calcolatrice tascabile! Ed è anche alimentata a batterie. Come riconoscerla?

Una calcolatrice con display VFD visualizza le cifre di colore verde-azzurro su sfondo nero (buio). No rosso, no grigio. Anche in questo caso lo sperimentatore dovrà rivolgersi al mercato dell'usato o chiedere ai conoscenti se ne hanno una nel cassetto. Qui avevo fotografato una calcolatrice con display VFD.

Per visualizzare l'effetto della forza di Lorentz sulla calcolatrice io farei in modo di visualizzare il numero 8 su tutte le cifre, posizionando o spostando il magnete sopra al display.

I display VFD sono stati utilizzati anche nei videoregistratori, negli impianti stereo, nei forni a microonde, ... si riconoscono perché hanno uno o più sottilissimi fili orizzontali che coprono tutta la lunghezza del display (il filamento). Ovviamente il dispositivo deve essere acceso per "subire" la forza di Lorentz.

20 May 2021

Kit Oscilloscope Clock 8SJ31J review - 4

As these kits have re-appeared on eBay in May 2021, more questions have been posted online. I think the input current consumption is not documented, or at least confirmed. So here you go.

My one and only kit of these, with a 2BP1 CRT (spec'ed at 650 mA filament), draws less than 800 mA at 13 Vdc input.

The voltage across the neon bulb is 56 Vdc.

HTH

24 April 2021

SEPTANIX Display from JRC

On the popular auctions site I spotted a never seen before(*) calculator that caught my attention. 

(*) most calculators stay on the site forever and nobody is interested in them (or they are proposed at a stellar price), so they fill up my saved searches and I skip all of them.

Even if a bit blurry, a picture of the display showed a think dense grid on top of the usual 7 segment + decimal point layout. With a bit of searching I could confirm it was a rebranded Unitrex 1202M, which came with a multi-digit gas-filled display but not a Burroughs panaplex.

Within a week I could get the calculator on my desk and reach the display:

septanix display by JRC
SEPTANIX Display with visible anode grid.

That is a (probably uncommon) SEPTANIX display made in Japan by JRC. It is a multi-digit version of other Japanese 7-segment neon tubes, with a visible anode grid as opposed to the more discreet arrangement in Panaplex display. Also vertical segments in the SEPTANIX have the same length, while in Panaplex lower ones are a bit taller.

The calculator itself is using negative voltages for the logic, so a conversion into a clock would require some extra efforts. Nevertheless I have one more display in my collection.


12 April 2021

Breadboard socket for valve

B9A on breadboard
B9A on breadboard.
To me, playing with vacuum tubes means a lot of trial and error to get where I would like to. Everything is laid on the desk and after a few weeks of fiddling I didn't want anymore to mix the hot soldering iron with the other equipment, cables and so on.

The solution would have been to make a socket so that the tube could be mounted on the solderless breadboard. Nothing easier!

I picked a B9A socket for PCB mount (from the lot that I bought) and soldered terminals that fit the solderless board. I used leftovers from through-hole component leads: they are long and flexible enough to reach the nearest hole.

B9A on breadboard
Filament connection is left out.

Since the filament requires a good amount of current I lifted pins 4&5 and soldered a short length of thick cable. This also allows to have three pins on one side of the breadboard and four on the other side, without overlaps.



10 April 2021

Memory upgrade to HP laptop (15-g005nl)

When the lockdown started one year ago I was fortunate to have enough computers at home to allow simultaneous distance learning and remote working. All home laptops run Ubuntu Linux, that makes them breath with just 4 GB RAM and 5400 rpm spinning hard-disks (that's slow in 2021 terms), plus all updates are under my sole control.

Those computers are about 10 years old and serve 8+ hours a day without a glicth. Almost.

After one year of extensive use the HP laptop needed an upgrade (or a reinstall). The HP 15-g005nl can be upgraded to 8 GB RAM. Linux lshw command shows that there are two slots, BIOS is not so detailed. Still in doubt: do I need a second 4 GB SODIMM, or a single 8 GB module?

I looked online for a teardown video of this model or alike and it confirmed my suspicion: there is only one RAM slot! The video is a lifesaver because, amongst other things, it tells you of 2+1 hidden screws (2 become visible when the DVD reader is removed, the third is under a rubber pad).

Before buying the memory bank I worked my way down to the memory slot, just to confirm that this laptop was NOT made with servicing in mind. Even replacing the HDD requires removing the keyboard and the hand-rest frame.

The picture below shows the main board lifted from the back shell, as if looking at the laptop from the front/normal use position. You need to remove at least 6 cables and lots of screws to get here.


I was so dedicated to the RAM upgrade that I did not notice the backup battery until I reviewed the picture. Hopefully it is a rechargeable and I will not have to deep dive again in the HP anytime soon.

The SODIMM was finally replaced and thrashing (swapping fast memory to the slow hard disk back and forth) has stopped. 


27 March 2021

Help with unknown vacuum tube / valve

In the assortment of vacuum tubes I bought there are few items that look all the same and all without marking. What is worse is that they do not look like any of the almost 40 kinds of tubes that do have a marking!

So I ask my readers for help to give a name to these B9A/noval tubes. All nine pins are connected. There are two identical sections and filament runs happy at 6.3V. The anode/plate is probably connected to pin 9.

Is it a double triode? A double pentode?

Please suggest your answer in the comments or via email to ik1zyw at yahoo.com. Thanks!
 

"Side" view.
"Front" view.

 

23 March 2021

Things got out of control with the all-valve TX project

The more I read about valve (vacuum tube) oscillators and transmitters, the more I understand the inner workings of those relatively simple circuits. Once I realised that a triode-heptode or triode-pentode tube can work both as oscillator and "PA", I concentrated my efforts around a PCL-805. Until my own hands presented me the nest shown in the picture.

One tube CW transmitter (tentative)

Alright. I will take one step back and beam my first venture into the world of vacuum tubes towards two separate stages: the crystal oscillator and the power amplifier. I do have enough tubes and sockets. What I am missing is a decent assortment of high voltage capacitors and high wattage resistors! Let alone RFC!



18 March 2021

Valve sockets!

Now that I got a hundred vacuum tubes and an idea of a project, I needed some matching sockets. Without in-person flea markets, I turned to eBay and with a bit of luck I spotted a lot of assorted used sockets that nobody wanted. I think I got about 100 pieces, which makes it 0.15€ each once shipping is taken into account. Of course I will never need all of them so I probably ended up overpaying just one socket :)

Besides lots of octal, loctal and noval sockets in different shapes, there were few interesting items, proof of a time when electronics were booming and everyone tried to impose their standard (or a technological lock-in).

I've collected them for a group picture (I forgot the ubiquitous *octal).

Numbers represent the # of contact points.

Needless to say that I have no tubes that fit most of these, and some tubes that have no matching socket.

If anyone wishes to give them a name, please do so in the Comments!

 

 

08 March 2021

EF80, EF183, EF184 XTAL oscillator

(This post has been deleted by Blogger because someone flagged it as malicious. No idea why. Then they changed their mind and returned the post in Draft state.)

While passing through forgotten boxes of forgotten components looking for some interesting TTL/CMOS ICs for an artistic project, I found two large XTALs for 2.0971 MHz. I think they were meant for some valve circuit, so I looked for an oscillator circuit with one of the tubes I have most: EF80.

Using the DIY B9A base I rigged together the most promising circuit I found online of a CW TX, with resistors "close enough" to quoted values. The ugly result is shown in the picture as well as the circuit diagram.


Diagram and test circuit.
 

I fed 6Vdc to the filament and 150V HT and it did oscillate. Cool. Time for experiments.

I could reduce filament to 5V at 300mA and everything was fine.

I could reduce the HT to 30V and it didn't stop oscillating, alas the signal picked up by the nearby receiver was much weaker. I couldn't go with a lower HT with today test setup.

Then, while I was at it, I tested all EF80 valves I had already separated from the rest. Not happy with the result, I checked through the list and found out that EF183 and EF184 pentodes are pin-compatible with EF80, so they got tested too. I could even re-stamp a few tubes that had become anonymous.

The result of a couple of hours of fiddling with on/off switched of power supplies is that I have 28 working pentodes waiting to be used in a real transmitter.

Now: VFO or XTAL?

28 February 2021

Checking a static discharge trick with the NanoVNA at UHF

Today I received a question about a post from 8 years ago: how to tame the static build-up in a GP or collinear antenna. Back then I had done some research and concluded that a high value non-inductive resistor could be used, especially at low TX power or RX only.

Now that I own a NanoVNA I can confirm that the impedance is not affected. I quickly reused the LoRA antenna from last Summer, which turned out to be resonating at 750 MHz (if we trust the NanoVNA). This is the curve on a 300 MHz span (well, it stops at 900 MHz on the right):

Just the "open" GP antenna.
 

Then I added a 10 kohm 1/4W resistor across radiator and radials and the result is almost identical (the marker has moved):

After adding the 10kR across. See next picture.

The very (quick && dirty) antenna under test.


So, if we trust the NanoVNA at the upper limit of its working range, this trick does not compromise the impedance. I might also have been lucky on the single experiment I've made, so do your measurements first.

09 February 2021

Sorting a box of vacuum tubes

So, there comes the time you become the owner of a shoebox full of almost-no-value one-hundredish vacuum tubes and you need to sort them out. I do want to use (some of) them, not immediately. I also have no facilities to keep them sorted in a logical way, so I had to do it efficiently.

First of all I separated the magic eyes, since they can be easily recognised and tested.

Then ... I simply transferred the tubes one-by-one from one box to another and typed the part number in a spreadsheet, when still visible. Those tubes without a usable marking have been compared physically & visually to others and some got a supposed part number with a marker pen. A dozen were left anonymous, separated from the rest, for other projects.

Once all the names are in a spreadsheet just create a pivot table to see how many different types you've got, and how many each.

Now go back online and look for projects with those tubes :)

05 February 2021

Freeform two transistor LED blinker completed

My first freeform electronics sculpture is finished! Visually it is a replica of Mohit's work with a change in the diagram (one resistor less). The LED blinks approx once every second, and blinks become more frequent as the available voltage decreases towards LED's forward voltage.

The 1uF capacitor that sets the frequency is charged though the leakage current passing through the LED. In ultrabright clear-case LEDs you see a faint emission in this phase (dark room implied). Then you are blinded by the following pulse :)

I also added a 1F 5.5V supercapacitor that keep the blinker running for more than 12 hours with a white LED. If a red LED is used, it lasts 24 hours.

If a solar panel is added in parallel to this circuit to top up the supercap during daylight (add a diode to prevent discharge back to the panel), basically it lasts forever.


The stand-by current is fractions of microamperes [uA] and the average lies around 30 uA (calculated). Not easy to measure, huh!

The hardest parts are to get straight wires and component leads and to keep everything in place when soldering when both your hands are needed to hold the iron and the solder. Then you need to make clean solder joints.

While is may seem a useless exercise, freeform electronics forces you to think out of the box even if you are reproducing someone else's work. Give it a try.

PS: working circuits impress 10x fold the audience.


03 February 2021

Freeform two transistor LED blinker

Two transistor LED blinker, construction in progress.
Intermediate result.
As announced, I wanted to try Freeform Electronics Art. My last PCB designs for clocks were meant to be artistic so that they could be displayed to the public even without a case. Freeform Electronics uses no PCB: it's all self-standing and built "in the air".

I chose to replicate Mohit Bhoite's two-transistor LED flasher because of its simplicity and I had all parts already at home.

I deliberately chose to ignore some of his planning and construction techniques (shared in videos featuring him and his art) so that I would learn more of and during the process. Moreover this blinker is very simple, forgiving and lightweight and almost any building technique should work.

Two transistor LED blinker, construction in progress.
Another view, next to an SD/TF card for size comparison.

Pictures show an intermediate result with 2N5401, BC347C and three resistors. I am half-way to the end, component-count-wise.



 

 

31 January 2021

QYT KT-8900 12V on the mic socket and more noise

Alright. I found a spot to get 12V inside the QYT KT-8900, which is pin 5 of the audio amplifier IC. It is located near the entrance of the DC cord. I bought it to pin 1 of the MIC socket, which is unused in this radio: that's where you can push the audio output for Packet/APRS (the documented mods mentioned in the previous post).

The result is that now the buzz is present both on transmit AND receive.

The oscilloscope explained everything. The wireless dongle generates digital spikes on its power supply line. Since it is designed to operate from the internal battery, nobody cares if there are 100mV 500Hz spikes.

Solution: add 47-100uF electrolytic capacitor on the power supply line of the dongle.

Thirty seconds after finding the solution I burnt the receiving dongle. (Hint: capacitors retain the charge.) Actually the LDO inside went short circuit. I removed and bypassed it, but while 3.3V to the dongle do power it up, it does not pair with the headset and shuts down after 10 seconds.

Considering that I am not operating /M on a daily basis as in pre-pandemic times I am now thinking of possible evolutions or restoring the same setup.

30 January 2021

Better 8V on QYT KT-8900 microphone socket

I want to simplify my mobile radio operations so that I do not have to switch on the wireless microphone receiver. In the car I use a [insert_your_adjective(s)_here] QYT KT-8900 VHF/UHF mobile, that I have described in the past. It outputs 8V on the microphone socket, so I wanted to use it to power the microphone receiver dongle bypassing the embedded battery.

I built a simple adapter with a 78L05 + the required capacitors + dropping diodes, but the voltage drop was too high when the dongle was powered through it. Then I checked online and a mod is suggested in order to get real 8V on pin 2 of the mike socket, which translates in adding a 10 ohm resistor between a point in the front panel board and the socket pin, like this:

How it is supposed to be done. But adds noise!


Well, I do get stable 8V out of the radio body, but now the transmitted audio has a strong buzz. The dongle drains about 35 mA at 4V.

I think the transceiver does not like when someone messes with the 8V line, as I had discovered when tracing the buzz on the received audio (see the first link above). Next move is to bring 12V out through the unused "pin 1" on the microphone socket. Fingers crossed (that nothing melts in the process!).


25 January 2021

Getting ready for some freeform electronics

Three sizes of brass wire.

Through hack-a-day stories and events I got to know Mohit Bhoite's freeform electronic projects (link goes to his Twitter page). He builds working circuits "in the air" as a form of visual art. He is not the only one on Earth publishing freeform electronics circuits, but he has a tendency to build "squared" shapes that better suit my current artistic abilities.

In order to get started I needed the wires that act both as conductors and supports. Mohit uses brass wires in 20 and 22 AWG sizes. That translates to 0.8 mm and 1.0 mm diameter in metric units. While I was at it I also bought 1.5 mm diameter brass, just in case I will need to support something heavier that a couple of ICs and a dozen of LEDs.

My first project will be a solar-powered super-capacitor LED flasher that promises to recharge even during short Winter days (already gone-by for Winter 2020-21).

 

 

22 January 2021

DMM Input Impedance

I am working on a very low power LED blinker and the need of measuring currents in the range of microamps (uA) has opened me new challenges in the world of lab instruments.

Once you can measure milliVolts, just let the uA current flow into a large-ish resistor (100k, 1M) and measure the voltage across it and apply Ohm's law. Then you remember that your instrument has a finite impedance and it might influence your readings. So, how to estimate a DMM/DVM input impedance? Or how to confirm what is written in the accompanying leaflet? 

In this experiment I have been using an ANENG AN8002 DMM, because it is small and uses 2xAAA cells instead of a PP3 9V battery. It should have 10 Mohm input impedance in DC Volts range.

In order to confirm or calculate the desired value, build a resistive voltage divider say, with a 10 Mohm resistor like this:

+V ------- 10 Mohm -------- DVM -------- GND

Let +V be a known voltage value (measure it in advance using the same DVM) and read what the DVM display says. The inverse formula says:

Rdvm = Vdvm*10 / (V - Vdvm)  [Mohm]

Using my values I get 11 Mohm of input impedance in the >2V range. I do have measured the 10 Mohm resistor with several instruments and they all agree on its value.

Since the AN8002 is an autoranging instrument, the input impedance may change with the auto-set range. And it does indeed, but it is always around 10 Mohm.

Do I need a microAmp meter? Maybe not yet.

Oh, by the way, the blinker takes 0.4 uA (that's 400 nA) when OFF. I have repeated the math several times and taken several measurements in different ways, but they do agree! It runs 24 hours on a 1F 5V capacitor ... if you don't mess with it with a DMM :)