Oscilloscope Mod for the Blues

Roughly 8% of males and 0.6% of females are red-green color blind, and yet many common oscilloscopes use yellow and green for the traces for their two-channel readouts. Since [Roberto Barrios] is afflicted by deuteranopia, a specific form of red-green colorblindness that makes differentiating between yellow and green hard, if not impossible, he got to work hacking his Agilent oscilloscope to make it more colorblind friendly.

Starting with a tip from [Mike] from the EEVblog forums, [Roberto Barrios] set out to rewire the LCD interface and swap the red and green signals. That way yellow will turn bluish (red component replaced by blue) and it could be seen as “very different now” from the green trace on the readouts. Sounds simple right? Well, slight issue: the 0.5 mm pitch of the connector. He did not want to design a PCB and wait a few weeks to receive it, so he decided on using 0.1 mm wires held together with Kapton tape to route each signal individually from one connector to the other. After an hour under the microscope, it was done. And boy, his work is impressive, go check it out.

Voila! It worked splendidly. Now [Roberto Barrios] can use his scope. And, the stock UI is mostly grey or white, so swapping the red and blue channels did not change much the appearance of the interface. Moreover, the switch had a small unintentional bonus, the loading screen is much cooler now with an edgy red sky. Further, [Roberto Barrios] “would not be [himself] if [he] could resist changing the CH1 button backlight LED to blue, to match the new trace color. So, no [he] couldn’t.”

This was a well done and very functional oscilloscope mod, but if you need more frivolity in your life, fear not: we’ve got your back with real-time Quake played on an oscilloscope.

13 thoughts on “Oscilloscope Mod for the Blues

      1. That depends. “Almost well written” software IMHO would have a constant somewhere for the color. Changing it at that one definition point would take care of it anywhere it is used. Actual well written software would already have a menu entry or some other form of setting that is user-accessible.

        OTOH editing a constant is presuming he is getting cooperation from the manufacturer since he is unlikely to have access to the source code. I eagerly await the day when we have a good open source scope on par with the Rigols and etc.. that are so popular today. (No, I’m not likely to help write it because I also eagerly await the day that I can afford the hardware!)

  1. I had an old monochrome Tektrionics digital scope. The probes had colored “rings” you could put on the tips and connectors to keep track of which went where. A few years later, I bought another one, and the colors were WAY worse for colorbilnd users. I emailed Tek and they were nice enough to send me an old set of the old colors! I think most colorblind users just don’t rely on colors as their primary method for differentiating, but designers MUST keep in mind that colors should always have a backup (like symbols, dots and dashes, text, etc.) 8% is a LOT of men!

  2. It really is a shame that in the series of mergers HP has through resulted in a switch over to a licensing based business model. The ‘low end’ (read, sub-$100k) products are intentionally crippled to force people to buy their higher end stuff, and even on the top of the line $500k scopes you still have to pay extra for software options like serial decode. I swear that every time a new scope comes through our lab it has less features than its predecessor–even the rigols that cost an entire 1-2 orders of magnitude less have more software features for crying out loud. (not that the rigols have escaped the license based business model, but at least you get features like being able to measure duty cycle and can buy/hack the unlocks for serial decode)

    Something as simple as changing the trace color is blatent crippling of the scope, and to what gain other than pissing off 10% of their customer base? Someone on eevblog mentioned that they may have been concerned that their poor UI decision or putting a fixed color LED for the channel enable button may have been related, but on a $5-10k scope the added cost of putting in a RGB led would have been negligible. Or they could have, you know, just put a neutral LED color like they used to have.

    1. In the days where everything was all hardware you still paid more for more features and the best stuff was only available to the richest buyers. It’s how a business gets the maximum amount of profit for their product. At least now you can choose to hack it. The manufacturer might not even care because the organizations that can afford to pay for their high end stuff wouldn’t do that anyway. They don’t want to trust their expensive investments to hacked test equipment.

      Someday we will have good open source scope firmware. People are working on it now. Making it run on current commercial equipment will be nice but it will always be a game of catchup as new models come out. Likely it will inspire DRM on the hardware. We have open source laptops now though.. I’m sure open source scope hardware won’t be far behind. It’s going to be a lot of work assembling it yourself but I’m sure that only days after a workable design hits GitHub some Chinese factories will start saturating the markets through Ebay.

  3. I see random dots, and appreciate this fix! I worked at a company (Metricom, anyone remember the Ricochet modems?) where one of their senior electronics techs was COMPLETELY colorblind. A rare disorder and slightly annoying for working with color-coded components (resistors get tested on the multimeter, yes?)

    Being a software developer, color-blindness is an annoyance but not crippling. But there have been more than one boardgame I couldn’t play due to my disability.

    1. I’m with you, Claud! Many a board games I have sharpied “R”‘s onto the pieces to know which were red!

      My experience has also been that when designers don’t rely strictly on color for functionality, they end up with an overall much better, usable, and better looking, product.

    2. I don’t know.. I’m not colorblind but a lot of those resistor color bands are pretty far off. I guess they use whatevere ink is available that day. I often find myself reaching for a multi-meter to figure out if this stripe is supposed to be yellow, brown, orange, gold or if that one is blue or violet.

      Maybe knowing you HAVE to use a meter from the start means you are less likely to make a mistake?

  4. As an aside:
    A former boss was Red/Green color blind.
    As he needed to view weather radar displays on a regular basis, so he made a color map for the various dBz readings that
    made more sense to him than the regular color map. It was difficult for other weather scientists to understand.
    Fortunately for all, they could pull up their desired color map from a menu button on the screen.

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