Some hardware/software related projects.


See what bored nerds can do!


  • PDP-11/70 console panel on USB

    This page describes my work with a PDP-11/70 processor console panel in 2009. After some try and error this finally leads to BlinkenBone later.

    The console panels of early PDP’s have always attracted people: Their clean minimalistic layouts colored in psychedelic purple colors presents (to my opinion) one of the best ‘70s industrial designs. Is it just me, or is there really a subtle connection to Pink Floyd’s music?


    Though most of the old mainframes have been scrapped, many of their consoles survived. This is because they are the most personalized part of a computer and they are not too difficult to store over long times.

    Everybody likes them, some play around with them. People connected them to webserver, or installed networked interfaces, or simply controlled them with massive parallel I/O cards.

    I choose a different approach: Connect the PDP-11/70 panel over USB to a PC.

    This has several advantages:

    • The panel can easily be connected not just to MS-Windows boxes, but also to MAC OS or Linuxes.
    • You can carry the panel and a notebook with you and present it everywhere.
    • The implemention is cheap, and pretty straight forward. No microcontroller or programmable logic chip is involved, you need just a solder iron and an standard USB to parallel interface unit.
    • Perhaps nobody has done it so far.



    I divide this project into several phases:

  • System testing
  • DECbox

    Here comes a cool exhibit for a computer museum:

    A credit-card size single board computer ("BeagleBone") emulating a selection of vintage computers ("SimH") ... all this build into a historical VT100 terminal.

    decbox vt100

    So the retrocomputing systems are operated through the original terminal, and the whole installation can easily be carried around.

    I build one of these, much in the following pages is about how I did it.

  • BlinkenBone

    Tradition does not mean to look after the ash, but to keep the flame alive.
    (Jean Jaures)

    Project BlinkenBone - historic Blinkenlight console panels controlled by simulators

    "BlinkenBone" is an architecture to connect simulators of vintage computers with "Blinkenlight panels".

    The panels can be vintage physical panels enhanced with modern micro-Linux controllers, or graphical Java simulations of the panels. The interface between simulator and panel is a network-based client/server model.

    Several precompiled ready-to-run distributions with virtual desktop panels are available on GitHub, start here for the docs.


    blinkenbone real pdp11 40 panelsim and Java simulation


    There are several BlinkenBone projects now:

    • PDP-11/40. This panel was the first, and is documented on these pages in detail. It was well received on VCFe 14 in April 2013 in Munich (physical and Java simulation).
    • PDP-11/45. BlinkenBone is finished, but since the colored acryl glass plate is missing, it was too ugly to publish pictures of it. It was dismantled.
    • IBM 360/30. Went to the U.S., is under construction since March 2013.
    • PDP-10 KI10, physical and Java simulation.
    • PDP-11/70. Was already connected to USB, now moved to BlinkenBone. Pphysical and Java simulation.
    • another PDP-11/70 in the U.S., made by Mark Matlock in 2013
    • a virtual Java PDP8I panel was build, photos from a machine at CCG
    • with a special driver, Oscar Vermeulens PiDP8 replica is enabled to work as a BlinkenBone panel.

    The physical panels have been shown on several conventions, including VCFe 13 in Munich and VCFB 2014 & 2015 in Berlin.

    The BlinkenBone software (SimH 4.x and helper tools) runs on several platforms:

    • Ubuntu 64 bit
    • Ubuntu 32 bit
    • MS Windows 32 (from WinXP to Win 10)
    • Raspberry Pi Raspbian
    • BeagleBone Angstrom Linux

    Sources are available on GitGub.

    You want to connect your own panel? Here are some step-by-step instructions.

  • Scanning micro fiches

    While repairing PDP-11's, I often suffered from missing documentation. Especially the program listings of the "XXDP" diagnostics were not found on the web.

    On the other hand, some guys I know had boxes full of DEC micro fiches. It took a while before I realized that all documentation was already at my finger tips.

    fichereader fiche2

    To read those fiches you need an old micro fiche reader (easy to get). Much better is access to a micro fiche scanner to make PDFs out of them, so you can share them with others. Getting access to a high-volume scanner proved to be almost impossible, so I decided to build my own.

  • BlinkenBone - How to connect a console panel

    You like to connect your own panel to BlinkenBone?

    DEC decdatasystem 570 console panel

    (PDP-11/70 panel, courtesy of Mark Matlock)

    Follow these step-by-step instructions!


  • BlinkenBone software

    Blinkenbone software comes in two ways:

    • as precomiled packages, wich contain SimH and all Java panels for diffferent platforms
    • as image of all sources on GitHub

    Core component are

    • the extended SimH with a "REALCONS" device.
    • Java panel simulations
    • for physical Panels the "BlinkenBus/BlinkenBoard" system on BeagleBone.




  • BlinkenBone panel simulations

    Several photorealistic "blinkenlight panels" are delivered with BlinkenBone.

    They are implement as platform-independen Java programs, which are controlled by SimH with REALCONS extension.

    blinkenbone virtual pdp1170 desktop

    Working with the panels is fun, but you must know what lamps and switches are for, and how to operate those ancient operation systems.

    See here docs about each implemented panel and the ready-to-run setup in the distribution:

  • Blinkenlight panel gallery

    Well, here no words are needed: just enjoy pictures of some console panels I'd like to re-animate. (I just can get enough of these!)


    panel pdp12

  • BlinkenBone physical panels

    Beside simulated Java panels, also REAL panels can be connected to BlinkenBone client programs (speak: "SimH").

    Standard method is with a BeagleBone micro system, to which special hardware is connected.

    blinkenbone vcfb2015 detail

    Also the PiDP8 replica made by Oscar Vermeulen can be made into a BlinkenBone component.



  • LSIbox

    "LSIbox" is a compact case in DEC-style appearance, filled with a "BeagleBone" micro-Linux system.

    LSIbox contains everything to operate an open PDP-11 / LSI-11 QBUS-system (PDP-11/03, 23, 73):

    • Power supply.
    • Remote operation of console panel.
    • internal switchable null modem cables between Linux system and PDP-11.
    • graphical Linux desktop with terminal simulation and other tools.
    • "driveless" operation of PDP-11 with TU58 tape emulator.


    But most important: it fits on the writing desk and looks beautiful !

    lsibox fan kbd

    Read on: