Category Archives: history

The Bad Old Days of Telephone Answering Machines

Telephone answering machines were almost a fad. They were hindered for years by not being allowed to connect to the phone lines. Then a mix of cell phones and the phone company offering voicemail made the machines all but obsolete. Unless you are really young, you probably had one at some point though. Some had digital outgoing messages and a tape to record. Some had two tapes. But did you ever have one that didn’t connect to the phone line at all? Remember, there was a time when they couldn’t. My family had one of these growing up and after …read more

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Rocket Bullets: The Flame and Fizzle of the Gyrojet

In the 1950’s and 60’s, the world had rocket fever. Humankind was taking its first steps into space and had sights on the moon. Kids could build rockets at the kitchen table and launch them in the schoolyard. On the darker side, the arms race was well underway with the US and USSR trying to close the fictional missile gap.

All around the world, engineers were trying to do new things with rockets. Among these were Robert Mainhardt and Arthur T. Biehl, who thought rockets could be useful as small arms. Together they formed MBA (short for Mainhardt and Biehl …read more

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Posted in bullet, classic hacks, Gyrojet, Hackaday Columns, history, Less-Lethal, Original Art, rocket bullets | Leave a comment

Calculus and a Calculator

Earlier this year, [Dan Maloney] went inside mechanical calculators. Being the practical sort, [Dan] jumped right into the Pascaline invented by Blaise Pascal. It couldn’t multiply or divide. He then went into the arithmometer, which is arguably the first commercially successful mechanical calculator with four functions. That was around 1821 or so. But [Dan] mentions it used a Leibniz wheel. I thought, “Leibniz? He’s the calculus guy, right? He died in 1716.” So I knew there had to be at least a century of backstory to get to the arithmometer. Having a rainy day ahead, I decided to find out …read more

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Spy Tech: How an Apollo Capsule Landed in Michigan after a Layover in the USSR

There’s an Apollo module on display in Michigan and its cold-war backstory is even more interesting than its space program origins.

Everyone who visits the Van Andel Museum Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan is sure to see the Apollo Command Module flanking the front entrance. Right now it’s being used as a different kind of capsule: as time capsule they’ll open in 2076 (the American tricentennial). If you look close though, this isn’t an actual Command Module but what they call a “boilerplate.”

Technically, these were mass simulators made cheaply for certain tests and training purposes. A full spacecraft costs …read more

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Posted in apollo, Hackaday Columns, history, moon race, nasa, soviet, Soviet spies, space | Leave a comment

The History and Physics of Triode Vacuum Tubes

The triode vacuum tube might be nearly obsolete today, but it was a technology critical to making radio practical over 100 years ago. [Kathy] has put together a video that tells the story and explains the physics of the device.

The first radio receivers used a device called a Coherer as a detector, relying on two tiny filaments that would stick together when RF was applied, allowing current to pass through. It was a device that worked, but not reliably. It was in 1906 that Lee De Forest came up with a detector device for radios using a vacuum tube …read more

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The History and Physics of Triode Vacuum Tubes

The triode vacuum tube might be nearly obsolete today, but it was a technology critical to making radio practical over 100 years ago. [Kathy] has put together a video that tells the story and explains the physics of the device.

The first radio receivers used a device called a Coherer as a detector, relying on two tiny filaments that would stick together when RF was applied, allowing current to pass through. It was a device that worked, but not reliably. It was in 1906 that Lee De Forest came up with a detector device for radios using a vacuum tube …read more

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Federico Faggin: The Real Silicon Man

While doing research for our articles about inventing the integrated circuit, the calculator, and the microprocessor, one name kept popping which was new to me, Federico Faggin. Yet this was a name I should have known just as well as his famous contemporaries Kilby, Noyce, and Moore.

Faggin seems to have been at the heart of many of the early advances in microprocessors. He played a big part in the development of MOS processors during the transition from TTL to CMOS. He was co-creator of the first commercially available processor, the 4004, as well as the 8080. And he was …read more

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Posted in history, intel 4004, Intel 8080, MOS, mosfet, self-aligned gate, z80, zilog | Leave a comment

Books You Should Read: Sunburst and Luminary, an Apollo Memoir

The most computationally intense part of an Apollo mission was the moon landing itself, requiring both real-time control and navigation of the Lunar Module (LM) through a sequence of programs known as the P60’s. Data from radar, inertial navigation, and optical data sighted-off by the LM commander himself were fed into the computer in what we’d call today ‘data fusion.’

The guy who wrote that code is Don Eyles and the next best thing to actually hanging out with Don is to read his book. Don’s book reads as if you are at a bar sitting across the table listening …read more

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Hacking When It Counts: The Magnetron Goes to War

In 1940, England was in a dangerous predicament. The Nazi war machine had been sweeping across Europe for almost two years, claiming countries in a crescent from Norway to France and cutting off the island from the Continent. The Battle of Britain was raging in the skies above the English Channel and southern coast of the country, while the Blitz ravaged London with a nightly rain of bombs and terror. The entire country was mobilized, prepared for Hitler’s inevitable invasion force to sweep across the Channel and claim another victim.

We’ve seen before that no idea that could possibly help …read more

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Hacking When It Counts: The Pioneer Missions

If the heady early days of space exploration taught us anything, it was how much we just didn’t know. Failure after failure mounted, often dramatic and expensive and sometimes deadly. Launch vehicles exploded, satellites failed to deploy, or some widget decided to give up the ghost at a crucial time, blinding a multi-million dollar probe and ending a mission long before any useful science was done. For the United States, with a deadline to meet for manned missions to the moon, every failure in the late 1950s and early 1960s was valuable, though, at least to the extent that it …read more

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Posted in history, Jupiter, nasa, Original Art, Pioneer, space, voyager | Leave a comment