Save Data from Old Scopes with a GPIB Disk Emulator

If you still use old test equipment on a regular basis, you probably have been frustrated by the lack of options for pulling data off these aging devices. Many higher-end devices are equipped with GPIB ports, which are general purpose buses for communicating with a variety of obsolete peripherals. Since GPIB disk drives aren’t too common (or practical) these days, [Anders] made a GPIB adapter that emulates a disk drive and stores data to an SD card.

[Anders] designed a PCB with a PIC microcontroller that plugs into a GPIB port. The PIC emulates a disk drive using the AMIGO protocol or the SS/80 protocol, which can be selected in a configuration file on the SD card. Most test equipment supports one of these two protocols, so his adapter should work with pretty much any GPIB-equipped kit.

Data is saved to a single image file on the SD card, which is encoded in a native HP disk format. The image file can be opened on Windows and Linux with some utilities that [Anders] mentioned on his project page. If you have any old test equipment withGPIB lying around and want to build your own, the schematic and source code are up on his site or [Anders] is selling bare boards.

Now if it’s a protocol converter that you need we’ve seen those in a couple of different varieties.

Ultimate Oscilloscope Hack – Quake in Realtime

[Pekka] set himself up with quite the challenge – use an oscilloscope screen to display Quake in realtime – could it even be done? Old analog scope screens are just monochromatic CRTs but they are designed to draw waveforms, not render graphics.

Over the years Hackaday has tracked the evolution of scope-as-display hacks: Pong, Tetris, vector display and pre-rendered videos. Nothing that pushed boundaries quite like this.

[Pekka]’s solution starts off the same as many others, put the scope in X-Y mode and splice up your headphone cable – easy. He then had to figure out some way to create an audio signal that corresponded to the desire image. The famous “Youscope” example demos this, but that demo is pre-rendered. [Pekka] wanted to play Quake in realtime on the scope itself, not just watch a recording.

With only so much bandwidth available using a soundcard, [Pekka] figured he could draw a maximum of about a thousand lines on screen at a time. The first headache was that all of his audio cards had low-pass filters on them. No way around it, he adjusted his ceiling accordingly. ASIO and PortAudio were his tools of choice to create the audio on the fly from a queue of XY lines given.

To tell his audio engine what lines to draw, he solicited Darkplaces – an open source Quake rendering engine – and had it strip polygons down to the bare minimum. Then he had to whip out the digital hedge trimmers and continue pruning. This writeup really cannot do justice to all the ingenious tricks used to shove the most useful data possible through a headphone jack. If this kind of thing interests you at all, do yourself a favor and check out his well-illustrated project log.

In the end [Pekka] was not entirely happy with the results. The result is playable, but only just barely. The laptop struggles to keep it simple enough, the soundcard struggles to add enough detail and the scope struggles to display it all quickly enough. At the very least it sets the bar extraordinarily high for anyone looking to one-up him using this method. There is only so much water that can be squeezed from a rock.

See the video below of [Pekka] playing the first level of Quake.

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Pendulum Music for Oscilloscope and Photodiodes

Two turntables and a microphone? Try two oscilloscopes and a couple of photodiodes. [dfiction] reinterpreted Steve Reich’s classic feedback piece for more modern electronics. The video is embedded after the break.

The original Pendulum Music is a conceptual musical composition from the heady year of 1968. Basically, you set a bunch of microphones swinging across speakers, making feedback as they pass by. The resulting rhythmic and tonal oscillations change over time as the swinging damps down. It’s either mesmerizing or entirely boring, depending on your mindset.

In the [dfiction] version, the feedback is produced by passing a “light microphone” over an oscilloscope. And since he’s got a pair of these setups, the one microphone also feeds the other ‘scope. The resulting sound is this chaotic and gritty noise-rumble. We dig it.

If slowly evolving “process music” pushes the boundaries of your attention span (or if it’s just not your thing) you can totally skip around in the video. Try around 1:40 and 3:45 into the piece just to get an idea of what’s going on. But once you’re there, you might as well let it run its course.

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The Four Thousand Dollar MP3 Player

[Pat]’s friend got a Pono for Christmas, a digital audio player that prides itself on having the highest fidelity of any music player. It’s a digital audio device designed in hand with [Neil Young], a device that had a six million dollar Kickstarter, and is probably the highest-spec audio device that will be released for the foreseeable future.

The Pono is an interesting device. Where CDs have 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio, the Pono can play modern lossless formats – up to 24-bit, 192 kHz audio. There will undoubtedly be audiophiles arguing over the merits of higher sampling rates and more bits, but there is one way to make all those arguments moot: building an MP3 player out of an oscilloscope.

Digital audio players are limited by the consumer market; there’s no economical way to put gigasamples per second into a device that will ultimately sell for a few thousand dollars. Oscilloscopes are not built for the consumer market, though, and the ADCs and DACs in a medium-range scope will always be above what a simple audio player can manage.

[Pat] figured the Tektronicx MDO3000 series scope sitting on his bench would be a great way to capture and play music and extremely high bit rates. He recorded a song to memory at a ‘lazy’ 1 Megasample per second through analog channel one. From there, a press of the button made this sample ready for playback (into a cheap, battery-powered speaker, of course).

Of course this entire experiment means nothing. the FLAC format can only handle a sampling rate of up to 655 kilosamples per second. While digital audio formats could theoretically record up to 2.5 Gigasamples per second, the question of ‘why’ would inevitably enter into the minds of audio engineers and anyone with an ounce of sense. Short of recording music from the master tapes or another analog source directly into an oscilloscope, there’s no way to obtain music at this high of a bit rate. It’s just a dumb demonstration, but it is the most expensive MP3 player you can buy.

Tripping on Oscilloshrooms With an Analog Scope

This might be an old trick, but it’s still cool to see a functional tool like the oscilloscope manipulated for an unrelated purpose such as this. [Jerobeam Fenderson] made a video explaining how to input stereo audio into an old digital scope in order to create of all things, dancing mushrooms… because why not?

In this case, [Jerobeam] used a Tektronix D11 5103N set in X Y mode and attached the left and right channels from his RME Fireface UC audio interface. One channel corresponds with X, and the other with Y. From here, he controls the wave forms discretely with the help of software like Pure Data (Pd) and Max (not free, but more powerful) which are visual programming environments made to enable musicians and artists to create software without writing lines of code. His video explains how to make a circle out of a sine wave, and then beat the crap out of it with math far beyond our comprehension. The outcome is pretty mesmerizing and leaves us wanting to try it out ourselves. Luckily, if you’re interested in experimenting with the voice of sine waves… [Jerobeam] has more information on his blog on how to do some scope play of your own whether your hardware is analog or digital.

You can see the dancing mushrooms in his video below:

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Scope Noob: Bridge Rectifier

Welcome back to this week’s installment of Scope Noob where I’m sharing my experiences learning to use my first oscilloscope. Last week I started out measuring mains frequency using an AC-AC wall wart adapter. Homework, for those following along, was to build a bridge rectifier and probe the signals from it. Let’s take a look.

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Scope Noob: Probing Alternating Current

I finally did it. After years of wanting one (and pushing off projects because I didn’t have one) I finally bought an oscilloscope. Over the years I read and watched a ton of content about how to use a scope, you’d think I would know what I’m doing. Turns out that, like anything, hands-on time with an oscilloscope quickly highlighted the gaping holes in my knowledge. And so we begin this recurring column called Scope Noob. Each installment will focus on a different oscilloscope-related topic. This week it’s measuring a test signal and probing Alternating Current.

Measuring a Signal


Hey, measuring signals is what oscilloscopes are all about, right? My very first measurement was, of course, the calibration signal built into the scope. As [Chris Meyer] at Sector67 hackerspace here in Madison put it, you want to make sure you can probe a known signal before venturing into the unknown.

In this case I’m using channel 2. Everything on this scope is color-coded, so the CH2 probe has blue rings on it, the probe jack has a blue channel label, and the trace drawn on the screen is seen in blue. I’m off to a fantastic start!

This scope, a Rigol 1054z, comes with an “auto” button which will detect the signal and adjust the divisions so that the waveform is centered on the display. To me this feels like a shortcut so I made sure to do all of this manually. I started with the “trigger” which is a voltage threshold at which the signal will be displayed on the screen. The menu button brings up options that will let you choose which channel to use as trigger. From there it was just a matter of adjusting the horizontal and vertical resolution and position before using the “cursor” function to measure the wave’s voltage and time.

I played around with the scope a bit more, measuring some PWM signals from a microcontroller. But you want to branch out. Because I don’t have a proper signal generator, the next logical thing to measure is alternating current in my home’s electrical system. I suppose you could call it a built-in sine wave source.

Probing Alternating Current


I sometimes take criticism for never throwing things away. Seven years ago we had a cat water fountain whose motor seized. It was powered by a 12V AC to AC converter seen here. Yep, I kept it and was somehow able to find it again for this project.

Of course at the time I thought I would build a clock that measures mains frequency to keep accurate time. This would have done the trick had I followed through. But for now I’m using it to protect me (and my fancy new scope) from accidental shock. I’ll still get the sine wave I’m looking for but with a source that is only 12V at 200 milliamps.

Don’t measure mains directly unless you have a good reason to do so.

Continuing on my adventure I plugged in the wall wart and connected the probe to one of the two wires coming out of it. But wait, what do I do with the probe’s reference clip? I know enough about home electrical to know that one prong of the plug is hot, the other is neutral. The clip itself is basically connected directly to mains ground. Bringing the two together sounds like a really bad idea.

This turns out to be a special case for oscilloscopes, and one that prompted me to think about writing this column. Had this been a 3-prong wall wart, connecting the probe’s reference clip to one of the wires would have been a very bad thing. Many 3-prong wall warts reference the mains earth ground on one of the outputs. If that were the case you could simply leave the clip unconnected as the chassis ground of your scope is already connected to mains ground via its own 3-prong power cord and the reference clip is a dead short to that. If you did need to probe AC using the reference clip you need an isolation transformer for your scope. There are bigger implications when probing a board powered from mains which [Dave Jones] does an excellent job of explaining. Make sure you check out his aptly named video: How NOT to blow up your oscilloscope.

As I understand it, and I hope you’ll weigh in with a comment below, since the wall wart I’m using has a transformer and no ground plug I’m fine using the ground clip of the probe in this case. Even though I’m clipping it to an AC line, the transformer prevents any kind of short between hot/neutral mains and earth ground (via the probe’s ground clip). What I don’t understand is why it’s okay to connect the transformed side of the 12V AC to mains ground?

At any rate, the screenshots above show my progress through this measurement. I first connected the probe without the ground clip and got the sad-looking trace seen on the left. After conferring with both [Adam Fabio] and [Bil Herd] (who had differing opinions on whether or not I should “float the scope”) I connected the ground clip and was greeted with a beautifully formed sine wave. I’m calling this a success and putting a notch in the old bench to remember it by.

What’s Next?

bridge-recctifier-teaserI don’t want to get too crazy with the first installment of Scope Noob so I’ll be ending here for now. I need your guidance for future installments. What interesting quirks of an oscilloscope should a noob like me explore? What are your own questions about scope use? Leave those below and we’ll try to add them to the lineup in the coming weeks.


For next week I’m working my way through the adventure of rectifying this 12V AC signal into a smoothed DC source. Here you see a teaser of those experiments. I’ve built a full-wave rectifier using just four diodes (1N4001) and will plunk in a hugely-over-spec’d electrolytic capacitor to do the smoothing. If you want to follow along on the adventure you should dig around your parts drawers for these components and give it a try yourself this week. We’ll compare notes in the next post!