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Messages - curtjr4

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1
Local Forecast / Re: "The WeatherSTAR" - Waking up the old beast...
« on: October 02, 2020, 09:48:22 PM »
Figured I'd go ahead and bump this thread... I moved into a new house and got all of this STAR business hooked up once again. So, here's a video of the III running a local forecast from earlier today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3vhlG9TrzQ

Enjoy!

2
General Discussion / Re: What's Your Speedtest and Pingtest results?
« on: September 14, 2020, 10:51:34 PM »

It's been a while, but finally got gigabit with Comcast. Fiber service should be available at my house in 6 months to a year according to our local fiber provider, so I'm pretty pumped about that. Benefit is, symmetrical upload and download with them :)

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Local Forecast / Re: "The WeatherSTAR" - Waking up the old beast...
« on: June 23, 2020, 11:27:35 AM »
Great stuff, thanks for sharing! How did you get the animated background to work?
I just played the looping background into the unit and manually called the text pages by controlling the OMCW (Output Mode Control Word), which affects all units simultaneously. The OMCW is global, meaning each STAR in the field would respond to it at the same exact time. It can control things such as the ad crawl, enabling or disabling the background on the lower portion (LDL) or upper portion of the screen, the solid line between the LDL and the upper portion of the screen, local commercial insertion, etc.

Now, it is possible to automate this. The OMCW could just switch the video source from satellite input to local input, however animated backgrounds aren't really much of a priority to me. I'm more interested in using the local input for a working replica of the radar product at some point.

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Local Forecast / "The WeatherSTAR" - Waking up the old beast...
« on: June 21, 2020, 05:56:49 PM »
Well, this is something that I've been wanting to do a write-up on for quite some time... the journey of my WeatherSTAR III/3000 units and, well, I guess my Juniors as well -- although, the Juniors aren't the primary focus of this forum post. If you like reading about old hardware, or just like these older analog STARs, this post will likely be your cup of tea! I start off with a little history of how I got the units, how we got the band together, some technical information and how we got to where we are today.

Background
The journey with my pair of III units dates back to summer of 2010. Martin had mentioned to me that he found some old WeatherStar's for sale, but wasn't going to purchase them. Some of you may remember that he posted some pictures of the units on here almost a decade ago to this day... so I went ahead and purchased the pair from a CATV outfit from Pennsylvania. The units have definitely seen quite a bit of use, with one of them having PCBs that were pretty dirty. Compressed air wouldn't do the trick... had to be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol.


Picture of the pair that I purchased. Martin posted this picture almost a decade ago on these forums. The top is a WeatherSTAR III with the translucent faceplate, and the bottom appears to be an original WeatherSTAR from the channels launch, upgraded all the way to a STAR III. The bottom unit has a date stamp hidden on the rear of the face plate that says November 19, 1981. 

I did a little bit of tinkering with them through the years, but really they were what everyone perceived them to be... doorstops! They could power on, I could run video through them... I could also manipulate the local sensors using resistors on the appropriate terminals on the rear. Other than that, they just sat there to look pretty.

The venture of getting these machines to truly run began about a year and a half ago, in very late 2018/early 2019. This is where stuff gets fun... initially, we were reverse engineering the WeatherSTAR Junior as everyone in the group had one, but our groups electronics engineer hit a bit of a snafu with understanding the logic. There is a CPLD (complex programmable logic device) on board handling the subcarrier data, which threw a major wrench into the project in regards to generating FSK data to drive the machines. The CPLD, while very useful for the original engineers, obfuscated how the data was being processed, so this is where the STAR III came into play. The III is fairly primitive, and all of the electronics are in your face. No obfuscation, no crazy programmable logic chips... everything is in your face. Thanks to the STAR III... we unlocked the keys to the kingdom, so to say. It was now possible to understand how the III and Jr expect data so we could properly feed it live weather information, just like it used to!

STAR III Awakens, with some troubles...

With us now generating our own (modified) UK Teletext frames, we are able to address the units and send them "pages". The pages are what we know as products, so the current conditions product is its own page, local hourly observations is its own page, etc.


The WeatherSTAR III displaying the "Forecast Across the Region" product in 2020.

This was a really cool moment. The WeatherSTAR III was discontinued in the United States in 2004 due to how the warning buzzer circuit operated. The buzzer circuit its self is interesting as, for some reason, it will continuously beep and beep and beep, and won't stop for almost 30 seconds. Annoying, right? Yeah. It's very annoying. Here's a video of the III doing its alert tone goofiness, after fixing a major issue with the alert crawl as explained later in this post... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3t05I9WryM0

Another issue that was stumbled upon was a weak power supply, causing characters on the screen to artifact really badly. A clip of that can be seen here, once the crawl starts... https://youtu.be/WXZNTrkLXCM?t=105

So... how did I fix this problem? Well. I had two options here... I could either adapt a modern ATX computer power supply to the STAR III, which would be nice because it can detect faults, or I could rebuild the original linear power supply! To keep the unit original, I opted to just recap the power supply... after doing so, the crawl quit glitching and I felt much more confident about running the unit.


A before shot of the power supply. You can see that the smaller green capacitors are bulging on the PCB.


Annnddd... afterwards with all new capacitors. I also touched up some of the traces on the back of the PCB, and cleaned up old flux.


The original battery pack that shipped with the unit. Surprisingly, they actually keep data retained for about 10-15 seconds with no power going to the unit. Somewhat amazing for 40 year old batteries...


The refreshed power supply reassembled into the chassis.

The other issue I was having was the system effectively running out of memory during a severe weather alert, which would cause all sorts of cool party tricks! The alert scroll text would become garbled, often times briefly repeating the beginning of the alert text, and it would change the time of day line on the LDL to whatever background color is set during the alert. So if there is a tornado warning, the line with the date and time will turn red. Or brown during a watch or an advisory. This one was a bit painful for me to watch, so I tried two different things. First, I replaced all of the 6116 SRAM chips on the STAR III Control board, and the 6116 SRAM on the STAR III Data board. I initially tested the chips against my EEPROM programmer... but the test wasn't actually keeping data in the memory. It'd bring the Vcc pin low, effectively clearing any written data. I just opted to replace the chips at this point... and it's always good to have spares.


Some (new to me) SRAM chips on the STAR III Control board.

At this point, as the issue was still proudly in front of my face, I opted to max out the system on SRAM. While the RAM can't be easily expanded on the control board... the data board was engineered for larger SRAM chips. In this case, I swapped out the 6116 for a 6264 SRAM chip. After buying some SOJ chips on the first go on accident, I ordered the proper DIP package and got the new chip installed. Problem still exists!

Finally, we bit the bullet and accepted that the SRAM couldn't be expanded (easily, at least), and all of the pages were being stored on the control boards memory. To stop this buffer overrun when sending alerts causing all sorts of goofy issues... we just had to rearrange the pages to ensure that they were not exceeding teletext page 52. In the middle of page 52, the system runs out of addressable memory.

Here's a video of the really goofy alert crawl issues I was experiencing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEN_YqbVs3w

In conclusion...
This has been a very interesting project, with a lot of great minds behind making the STAR III, STAR Jr, and STAR 4000 live once again. I'd like to thank Techknight for his electronics experience, as well as others on this forum who won't be named without their permission. I'm absolutely stoked to have these older systems running again, with them being almost 40 years old!


A Jr and the III running in my equipment rack.


Another shot, but without the face plate on.


The STAR III playing a forecast with an animated background in June of 2020. You can watch the LF here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13gfT-m4kCI

I hope you all enjoyed this. Feel free to ask questions, and comment! I'd love to read some feedback from the community :) I tried keeping this short so if there's anything you would like me to talk about in depth, just ask.

5
Local Forecast / Re: the Real WeatherSTAR 4000 Lives again.
« on: June 20, 2020, 05:27:12 PM »
The thing to keep in mind with these older WeatherSTAR units is they are essentially "dumb". They are just character generators that can be addressed over satellite... so, if memory serves, a Digital PDP-11 mainframe at TWC would create slightly modified UK Teletext packets to send to the STARs, addressing a specific unit that is hooked up to the satellite feed.

As an example, imagine you have a WeatherSTAR III unit who's address is 00011111 in Denver, and a WeatherSTAR Jr with address 00022222 in Minneapolis. Both units are hooked up and connected to a VideoCipher II that has been authorized by TWC. The mainframe at TWC would gather all of the necessary weather data, 36 hour text forecasts, etc, and build pages to push to the units. The mainframe would fetch the information for Denver, and create a page header packet specifying how many lines should be on that page with some other information, then packets would follow it with what text should be displayed on what line. These packets would be addressed to unit 00011111, and sent over the satellite. Then it would do the same thing for Minneapolis. Gather the necessary information for Minneapolis, and create packets to address unit 00022222. The mainframe defines exactly what will be seen on-air. "Conditions at Denver" could be changed to "Your weather for Denver", or whatever else in the current conditions product... if they made that change at the mainframe.

I hope that makes sense. It's not an in-depth explanation, and there are a lot of technicalities -- but that's just a dumbed down example of whats going on behind the scenes. The 4000 operates a bit differently, but it follows the same premise. It's addressed by the mainframe, and just displays whatever is sent to it. This is why during sun outages, you would see random characters appear on these older STARs... because the data packets are getting screwed up.

Information overload. But that's the basic run down. I might do a little write up here of my WeatherSTAR III and the road taken to make it run again with the combined efforts of Techknight and a few other forum members on here... that way I don't clog up the 4000 topic with III/Jr stuff ;)


Edit: Here's an example off of my YouTube channel. I'm sending these lines to the unit... totally custom page I built. Only example of this that you'd see in the field was back in the early 80s when they'd advertise upcoming programming, or show that eclipse warning from like 1984 or something around there.

6
Local Forecast / Re: the Real WeatherSTAR 4000 Lives again.
« on: June 03, 2020, 12:01:22 AM »
I don't want to hog the entire spotlight because I do really have to thank the group of guys I worked with and continue to work with that helped me bring this into fruition, they shall remain nameless unless I have their permission to mention them, or they mention themselves :-)
You've got my permission :rofl:

Other STARs do, in fact, work. It just takes a bit of computer knowledge, patience, and some very long nights to grasp exactly what is going on with them.

I already have the WeatherSTAR Jr and the 3000 working. I did that beforehand.
Figured I'll drop some pictures on here of the III running on my end... some people may like to see it.


There's two other pictures on Imgur: https://imgur.com/a/oaCnmlq

7
...TWC could have been testing out the maps and they plan on updating it with Roboto in the future...
TWC would test that internally first. I'm confident it was just a goof up ;)

8
Local Forecast / Re: Music playlists gone?
« on: May 13, 2020, 08:19:47 PM »
From cc17926's post in the forum announcements, it sounds like it will eventually come back. There's been some stuff going on behind the scenes, and luckily things are being addressed around here after years of stagnation. I'd just hang tight and see what unravels ;)

9
Programming and Graphics / Re: Question About the Male OCMs
« on: May 13, 2020, 08:15:16 PM »
Does anybody pay attention to how a lot of the male OCMs dress these days?
I can't speak for other people, but I don't.

...when you consider that years ago, it was a given that if you had a job on TV, you'd wear a coat and tie...
That was also years ago, as you said. Things have relaxed and I am okay with it myself. It's like wearing nice suits to work as you would stereotypically see in the 1950s... boy am I glad business casual is common now! If the OCMs are comfortable and look presentable, then awesome! If they want to wear a tie and a coat, then cool. Just don't get in front of the camera with an AC/DC shirt looking like you haven't cleaned up in a while and I won't flip the channel :yes:

10
TWC Today News / Re: Some changes on the Forum
« on: April 18, 2020, 05:48:01 PM »
Very exciting! Time to breathe some life back into this place :bleh:

11
General Discussion / Re: Corona Virus
« on: April 01, 2020, 02:13:57 PM »
I'm inhaling some extremely ignorant, self-centered anecdotal content in this thread :rolleyes:

12
Sadly, as others have already said, the majority of members left due to TWCs decline in the past decade...  it's just not the same. Every once in a blue moon I'll take a glance at the forum from afar to see what all people are doing, but I don't see much activity at all that interests me. I do keep in contact with some other old timers from here, which is fantastic!

While I still admire the technology aspect of TWC and work with my STAR hardware, I don't particularly care for the network as it stands today. My family ditched cable back in 2015, and frankly, I am a-okay with not having TWC anymore. Netflix and Hulu FTW :happy:

I do miss all the buzz and random discussions we all had back in the day on these forums, though! :thumbsup:

13
Local Forecast / Re: General LF Discussion
« on: April 22, 2019, 12:46:37 PM »
The full-screen LF has officially been removed.
Can you cite your source on this official decision?

14
General Emulator Discussion / Re: This emulator needs an update...
« on: February 12, 2019, 02:32:43 PM »
"The LDL is required in the future"... your wish is his command, Stan! :thrilled:

This post was jarring and demanding at best. Maybe you should have asked, "Is there a way to disable these scrolls". And maybe ask if he'd be interested in adding those LDLs in the future as an option as you mentioned  :thinking:

15
General Discussion / Re: Death of One of our own Members
« on: August 04, 2017, 04:42:43 AM »
James was a great friend of mine when I was younger and the many conversations I had with him kept me up during my time of depression. May he rest in peace. :(
Reminds me back when we all would Skype. Man... I miss those days. I've kept in touch with James up until about three or four months ago, then he went silent.

Super sad. May you rest in peace, buddy. I'll see you one day.

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