Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

A event log for Vintage Displays Hack Chat with Fran Blanche

To Nixie tubes and beyond!

Dan MaloneyDan Maloney 08/11/2021 at 21:070 Comments

Dan Maloney12:00 PM
Greetings all, welcome to the Hack Chat. I'm Dan, I'll be moderating today along with Dusan as we welcome Fran Blanche to talk about Vintage displays. I'm not sure I've seen her log on yet, though -- you out there, Fran?

jonathan.sparks joined  the room.12:01 PM

Fran Blanche12:01 PM
Hey all!

Dan Maloney12:01 PM
Hi Fran, welcome aboard!

Nicolas Tremblay joined  the room.12:01 PM

Fran Blanche12:02 PM
My IBM Model 8 is ready to go.

Dan Maloney12:02 PM
330 baud for life...

morgan12:02 PM

Dan Maloney12:03 PM
So I think we're all pretty familiar with you from Fran Lab and Fran Tone, but maybe you can just give the newbies a quick intro?

Thomas Shaddack12:03 PM
330 baud could be survivable, with enough bits per symbol.

Fran Blanche12:04 PM
Quick would be impossible but I'm really full time FranLab these days...

Fran Blanche12:05 PM
I've posted hours of condensed back story on the channel in several long form videos...

Dan Maloney12:06 PM
Gotta say, watching all that drama about having to find a new space was kinda heartbreaking. Hope the rent situation stays stable for a while.

Fran Blanche12:08 PM
It's always at risk. In Brooklyn I got tossed out of my first Frantone factory that I had built with a paid lease. Nothing is ever certain.

Fran Blanche12:09 PM
I guess everyone's holding off on their questions till later.

Fran Blanche12:09 PM
Or maybe I've put everything out there already...

Dan Maloney12:10 PM
I guess I'll start us off then -- what's the latest on your upcoming ride of G Force One?

Patrick Hickey12:10 PM
Fran, Hello from Edinburgh Scotland. I enjoy your videos, especially those featuring displays like the unboxing collection a few years back, and the NASA segment display. I am completely obsessed with LEDs and displays myself, I have almost everything from the Monsanto MV1 to the more recent HP hybrid displays. Perhaps one day we could arrange a swap / trade?

Fran Blanche12:11 PM
All systems are go. There is a lot involved just to get on the plane, but I hope we've sorted everything out.

Fran Blanche12:12 PM
@Patrick Hickey - I get asked all the time to trade or sell stuff, but FranLab is basically a museum so I will keep it all together for posterity.

morgan12:13 PM
as a lover of obscure (and not) museums, would/have you even considered a future public display? similar to what LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER is working towards with the synth museum?

Fran Blanche12:14 PM
It's really all about cost. In Philadelphia public space is expensive and weirdly hard to get. I'd love to do it, but it would cost a fortune.

Fran Blanche12:17 PM

Fran Blanche12:20 PM
This feed is sort of like a bunch of people standing quietly by a freeway waiting patiently for a crash to happen.

Dan Maloney12:20 PM
That's pretty cool. Wonder if it's solid inside or actually has walls. Where's that displayed?

Fran Blanche12:21 PM
The Franklin Institute. I imagine it's very hollow.

Dan Maloney12:21 PM
It's summer -- maybe everyone is taking a siesta.

Patrick Hickey12:21 PM
@Fran Blanche what would you consider the rarest, most obscure or favorites of your display collection?

Thomas Shaddack12:22 PM
Politicians are like bells. Noisy and hollow.

Fran Blanche12:22 PM
Hard to say what the rarest is, since doing the original NIMO videos they've been popping up here and there. So far the Bina-View still seems to be one of a kind.

Thomas Shaddack12:24 PM
Are the multidigit vintage displays multiplexed or statically driven? the static ones can be pretty handy for eg. time/counter/whatever displays for high-speed camera work where the multiplex would hopelessly flicker.

MrPeach joined  the room.12:24 PM

Fran Blanche12:25 PM
Multiplexing did not really become a thing until digital calculators. I prefer direct drive because I hate the flicker of MUXed displays.

Dan Maloney12:28 PM
Fran, that big lot of surplus from the university lab cleanout seems like it was a major score. Any tips for the rest of us on finding stuff like that?

Fran Blanche12:31 PM
It's pure luck. I had an even bigger haul back in 2002 at Columbia University - and some other small ones - but it's always I get a call or email from someone telling me that a room full of gear is going into a dumpster in two days or whatever and would I like to go through it... it's always something like that. But you don't want to do try it yourself - you really don't! It's a 20 ton boat anchor waiting for you.

Dan Maloney12:32 PM
But you make it look like so much fun, going through all those treasures.

Fran Blanche12:32 PM
...And you always have to leave the coolest stuff behind. At Columbia they had a completely hand-built analog computer there that took up an entire wall. I couldn't haul it... It went to land fill.

Patrick Hickey12:32 PM
@Fran Blanche Wow I just had a look at your video of the Bina View - looks great, never seen one of those (reminds me of the projection units) very complex and clever piece of engineering, but rather clunky! Have you had a look at a Dynamic Scattering Matrix LCD?

Fran Blanche12:33 PM
LCD's just don't do anything for me.

Patrick Hickey12:34 PM

Patrick Hickey12:35 PM
Here's one of my most unusual LED displays, Siemens PDOG 3416, appears to be a prototype, red+green LEDs on the same display!

Dan Maloney12:35 PM
Seems like it needs a filter in front of it, but which color would you choose?

Fran Blanche12:37 PM
Filtering LED's is kinda not possible because it is always one very specific wavelength, so any lens that is not 100 in line with passing that frequency just dims the display.

Fran Blanche12:38 PM
... That being said I have seen blue filters on red displays, or the like but it honestly just makes the readout hard to see,

Fran Blanche12:40 PM
T-20 and counting....

Thomas Shaddack12:40 PM
sounds like you need a big storage space somewhere dry. Something like the place where aircraft are mothballed...

Patrick Hickey12:40 PM
@Dan Maloney Photographing LED displays is tricky, but a neutral density grey filter usually looks best, hides the gold traces. this was actually a glitch resetting the MCU to get both to light at the same time, I don't think the drivers are capable of displaying red+green at the same time.

Patrick Hickey12:41 PM

Fran Blanche12:41 PM
@Thomas Shaddack - I have the Vault and a few other rooms not so well controlled, but it is very expensive just to keep the stuff, not even counting trying to inventory it and move it around.

Dan Maloney12:42 PM
So do they basically have two LEDs connected in "reverse parallel" across the X- and Y- lines of a matrix?

Fran Blanche12:43 PM
I imagine the driver is current limited. People don't often realize how much the early LED dies would draw.

Dan Maloney12:43 PM
Travelling Willbury's "Cool Dry Place" comes to mind...

Fran Blanche12:43 PM
You pay a lot for a cool dry place in the city. Even the dark damp places are not cheap.

Patrick Hickey12:44 PM
@Dan Maloney that might be it... I need to investigate further, here is the Siemens sales engineers display case, housing 9 separate MCU boards each with demo units.

Patrick Hickey12:44 PM

Thomas Shaddack12:44 PM
Would something outside the city help? Balance the cost of logistics against cost of rental?

Dan Maloney12:45 PM
Wow, those are actually a lot more legible than I would have thought. Especially that one in the upper right.

Thomas Shaddack12:46 PM
Back in those days they didn't know how to make them cheap, so they had to make them well.

Fran Blanche12:46 PM
Where the city ends and begins is vague - weirdly when I lived far outside in the burbs storage was really no cheaper. No free ride these days. You have to go Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out there to start seeing cost reductions.

Dan Maloney12:46 PM
And I love the resources they put into sales demo units back in the day. I suppose they still do, but the old stuff is cool.

Thomas Shaddack12:48 PM
What about VFDs? Vacuum or gas-filled stuff in general? Rad-hard displays (is there something like that or would the crew be a glowing toast before the degradation of the electronics becomes a concern?)?

Thomas Shaddack12:48 PM
Displays for extreme conditions - cold, hot, vibrations...?

aalves12:51 PM
Hi Fran, thought I would have missed this. I love your videos on vintage displays, and have even started to try and start collecting. Coincidently enough at the moment a NEMO tube is on ebay, first time I've seen one there in years.

Patrick Hickey12:52 PM
@Dan Maloney Yes, that was a lucky ebay find about 10 years ago, it cost more to ship and import tax than the item itself but it is one of my most treasured relics! I have a couple of other LED demo units, including Texas Instruments, National Semiconductor and Monsanto... I plan to do a write up on these on hackaday in the future.

Dan Maloney12:52 PM


Vintage Readout Tube aka NIMO Tube - IEE 6000-92-0006 - Very rare | eBay

Excludes: Alaska/Hawaii, US Protectorates, APO/FPO, Africa, Asia, Central America and Caribbean, Europe, Middle East, Oceania, Southeast Asia, South America, Angola, Cameroon, Cayman Islands, French Polynesia, Libya, Mongolia, Suriname, Guyana, Panama, Mauritius, Brunei Darussalam, Chad, Madagascar, New Caledonia, Bahamas, Bermuda, Iran, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Western Sahara, Bolivia, Laos, Congo, Republic of the,

Read this on eBay

John Iversen joined  the room.12:52 PM

Dan Maloney12:53 PM
There's a bunch of Numitrons too...

Thomas Shaddack12:53 PM
Do the displays degrade over time? By what mechanisms?

esot.eric12:55 PM
I gotta say, the mechanics of the binaview is inspiring, it was quite awesome to see that vid

Fran Blanche12:55 PM
If the tube loses vacuum the getter goes white, so its easy to spot - but of the tubes I have only one really works well. They had lots of issues with the internal geometry in the production process.

Fran Blanche12:56 PM
The best value in vintage displays right now are Panaplex.... lots were made form pinball machines and there is little demand for them.

Fran Blanche12:57 PM
T-5 and counting....

aalves12:58 PM
Yeah I was able to pick up a panaplex multimeter for pretty cheap about a year ago. But I will say there's something about the nixie format that I enjoy more then the panaplex.

Patrick Hickey12:58 PM
@Fran Blanche have you noticed a decline in the interesting displays and rare LEDs available on ebay over the recent years? ACP surplus was one of my favorite sellers for vintage components...

Fran Blanche12:59 PM
Supply and demand. Rare stuff gets rarer every year.

Fran Blanche1:00 PM
We're in overtime, but if there are any more questions just shoot 'em out here....

Dan Maloney1:01 PM
OK, so I think we're up against our time limit, so we've got to let Fran get back to the lab. I really want to thank her for spending some time with us today, and to thanks everyone for stopping by. Fran, best of luck with the flight, and I know we'll all be looking forward to the videos that come out of that.

Thomas Shaddack1:01 PM
Best luck for you!

Dan Maloney1:01 PM
In case anyone needs context:

Fran Blanche1:01 PM
Cool! I'll be on them YouTubes.

Dan Maloney1:01 PM


Thomas Shaddack1:02 PM
You may like this.

esot.eric1:06 PM
Hey, @Fran Blanche ... im no guitar-buff but i saw a weird circuit with a zener used for biasing, and thought that might make for an interesting guitar effect... upper portion of the cycles would be, say 1x amplified, while lower portion might be 0.3x... seen anything like that?

Thomas Shaddack1:13 PM
Couldn't that be done with a DSP? With an if-then or a lookup table, all sorts of transformations are possible.

esot.eric1:23 PM
Dsp's are the lcds of guitar-effects ;)

esot.eric1:26 PM
It's such a simple circuit, I imagine it'd already be a thing if it has a decent sound... but, it occurs that guitar output probably isn't 0-centered, so probably sounds different depending on pluck vigorosity, etc...