Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Retro-Futuristic Computing 22

HawaiianMayan asks: "Sure, if you're a collector you might have a working computer from the 60s or even the 50s in your basement or garage. But what about from the 20s or 30s? Lately I've been dreaming of a retro-futuristic computer, with all the convenience of a modern desktop (I don't want to deal with punchcards!), but styling from the early part of the 20th century. I'm wondering if any of the hardware hackers out there are working on anything like this. It would need an appropriate case, a manual typewriter keyboard, a black and white screen, preferably enlarged by a nice freznel lens, and lots and lots of nixie tubes, knobs, and blinkenlights. Would it be too much if the numeric keypad was a rotary dial?" Think about the computer props used from such classics like Max Headroom (both the movie and the TV series) and Brazil, and you'd be very close to what the submittor is looking for. I must admit, making a computer in this fashion would certainly be a break from the beige box and monitor!
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Retro-Futuristic Computing

Comments Filter:
  • You are probably looking at quite a bit later in time for the things you mention. Check out this timeline []
  • Spock! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Noodlenose ( 537591 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @04:25AM (#2893361) Homepage Journal
    You could even hook up an eyepiece like the one spock uses on the classic Enterprise and then mutter "fascinating" every time you're getting fragged at a Quake III tournament.


  • Don't forget (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pathwalker ( 103 ) <> on Thursday January 24, 2002 @04:36AM (#2893375) Homepage Journal
    That the Powermate [] is also a blinkenlight - you can adjust the pulse rate from stroboscopic, to a nice slow pulse of about 30 seconds for a cycle.

    I have one - it rocks. In addition to it being a cool looking blinking object on my desk, I use it for scrubbing through video in iMovie, and scrolling through text in project builder.
    It is also, I admit, a great volume control for iTunes...
    • You paid $45 for a volume knob with an LED on it?!??
      • No, I spent $45 on a very well designed knob shaped input device. The fact that it also makes an excellent volume control is (to me) just a bonus.

        I love it - it's really amazing how many tasks are made easier by having a knob you can fiddle with.

        When I'm grabbing frames from a video I took on vacation to make a QTVR [] file, I use left and right to pan through the track, and a click to save the current frame. If I'm actually editing the video, I reassign the click to split the current track.

        For editing code, or using a console, I set left and right to the up and down arrows, and the click to return. It's great to twirl it with one finger, and use it to scroll through long documents, or to just give it a twist and a press to zip through my command history, and repeat a command I know I typed sometime in the past 10 minutes or so.

        Music? Well, I must admit, it does make a very nice volume control...
  • Great idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by baka_boy ( 171146 ) <lennon@day-reyCO ... m minus caffeine> on Thursday January 24, 2002 @05:01AM (#2893419) Homepage

    I have an old PowerBook G3 that I'd been planning on subjecting to a similar conversion to the first item (the old radio case) mentioned, but hadn't figured out an appropriately anachronistic mechanism for the CD-ROM drive. I'm not sure if the pop-out internal drive can be adapted to a vertical orientation, but since it's one of the "old school" models that actually holds the CD in place, I just might be able to pull it off.

    My basic plan had been to mount the thing in a largish jewelry box, replacing the lower storage compartments with the mainboard, keyboard and trackpad (painted to match, of course), and mounting the LCD on the underside of the lid. That would do prevent the classic fresnel lens for the display, of course, but it would mean that the whole thing would sort of "disappear" when placed on an end-table or desk.

  • I so wanted to mod some computers, hell, my workspace, to look like the setups they had in Brazil. I think that having a bunch of terminals like that in a cafe would be really cool. Damn it! I need a good drill press, some welding equipment and materials, but it could definately be done. I talked about this with a few friends a year or so ago, but they thought I was crazy. I didnt disagree.
  • The 1940's radio case Macintosh is amazingly beautiful!

    To all the other suggestions I would add a chunk of core memory from an old IBM 360 mainframe or a DEC pdp mini, and a morse code key like my late uncle used to DX shortwave around the world back in the 1930's to 50's. The use of core memory is self-explanatory, but the morse key might be nice as a special "numeric keypad data entry key" that you would have to learn the proper morse code equivalents for, in order to get the numbers into your system!

    • Numbers are fun but tough without a bug [].
      one = di dah dah dah dah
      two = di di dah dah dah
      three = di di di dah dah
      four = di di di di dah
      five = di di di di dit
      six = dah di di di dit
      seven = dah dah di di dit
      eight = dah dah dah di dit
      nine = dah dah dah dah dit
      zero = dah dah dah dah dah
      Can't count these in your head above 13 words/minute. Got to listen for the rythym of the code (Anyone else remember that tape?)
  • lead to really crummy boot times.

    "What's up!?"
    "Waitin' for my PC to warm up!"

    On the other hand a nice looking 30s-40s radio style case might be pretty nifty looking.

    I imagine working that old manual carriage-return lever on your keyboard would be a real b*tch when coding though.
  • Build your computer into a wooden case. Surround the case with a shitload of interconnected gears, crankshafts, worm gears, and so on. Not actually powering anything, but something so that the entire assembly will move when current is applied. Next, hook up a variable power source to the assembliage, and rig up a way so that CPU (or total system load) applies voltage; the more load, the more power, the faster the gear assembly goes. Bonus points if you can hook up a steam valve to make a whistling noise when CPU is sustained at 100 percent for a given period of time. Refer to this as your 'babbage engine.' Make reference to how many yards of gearage it has, and how you can boost it's computational ability by giving the steam valve a quarter-turn. Wax poetic on how the Wonders of SCIENCE! have Improved The Lot Of The Common Man! and other such wonderful things.
  • by ninewands ( 105734 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @12:12PM (#2895158)
    Checck around at hamfests and other sources for old and ancient electronic gear. See if you can find an old Model 14 teletype machine. It was current high-tech during the period you're interested in.

    If you can live with a rather limited character set, all you have to do is interface it to your serial port and write a small (almost trivial) daemon to convert the 5 bit Baudot code to ASCII.
  • By a striking coicidence, I've actually been working on something similar, albeit not for a desktop machine, but for my car computer [].

    I don't have pictures or anything up because it's only half finished, but the basic are simple enough to understand. I bought some scrap parts from a fighter jet (at a place that buys military scrap), and among them was the small overhead toggle panel from some sort of aircraft, probably a transport jet, though most of the labels are worn off so I can't really read the markings on it. I've been trying to wire up the toggle and guard switches and use them to, at least partly, control the computer and other things in the car.

    *click* Power On

    *click* headlights

    *click-click* defroster on 'high'

    • Hmmm, /me starts thinking...
      I may do this to my jeep,
      All you would have to do is reroute all of the switch wires, and I could mount a metal plate in my ceiling upholstry, and mount them to it.
  • by qurob ( 543434 )

    "Sure, if you're a collector you might have a working computer from the 60s or even the 50s in your basement or garage."

    If you had a computer from the 50's or 60's, it'd most likely BE your basement or garage.

  • You're basically talking about putting a PC into an old mahogany case. That's great and all, but would you want to use it all the time? Typewriter keyboards are *terrible* for the wrists.

    What would you power the vacuum tubes with? They get very hot; this could pose the risk of a fire. Also, if you're just using normal vacuum tubes for show and you're not loading them; they'll fry almost immediately if you're just running current through the plates to make them turn orange.

    I guess I just don't see the point. A nasty little magnified screen that's headache-inducing, a huge power-draining array of vacuum tubes, and a keyboard you couldn't use for 5 minutes without wanting to gnaw your hands off... sounds like an expensive, useless conversation piece.

    - A.P.
    • I agree about the kayboard nand monitor, but.

      Why run any current through the plates? Run 5-24V, depending on what the tube filliments need, through a current limiting resistor in series with the filliments, and make sure the tubes are well ventilated so your rig doesn't overheat.

      The tube filliments don't take up any more power that an incondessant bulb, just make sure you limit the current so they glow an orangeish color.
  • Try posting on the HardOCP cool cases forum [] for ideas. They do a lot of interesting case mods, maybe someone there has done something like what you want to do.
  • For a moderately retro look, try painting the case in a gloss finsih, preferably black, have all your drives painted black, and lots and lots of chrome!

    Plus of course the fins on the back like the late 59 cadillacs []

    I've had a bit of a go [] at capturing this look, but this guy's [] done much better.

"Morality is one thing. Ratings are everything." - A Network 23 executive on "Max Headroom"