Connecting an old scope to a computer


A friend of [Michael]’s said his company was getting rid of some old lab equipment and asked him if he wanted a very large and very old digital storage oscilloscope. A ‘hell yes’ and we’re sure a few beers later, [Michael] found an old Gould 200 MHz four-channel scope on his bench. Even 20 years after its production it’s still a capable tool, but the serial ports on the back got [Michael] wondering – would it be possible to plot the screen of the scope on his computer?

The scope has three ports on the back – GPIB, miscellaneous I/O, and RS423. The latter of those ports is similar enough to RS232 that a USB to Serial converter just might work, and with the help of a null modem cable and a terminal, [Michael] was able to connect to this ancient scope.

In the manual, [Michael] found a the serial commands for this scope. The most useful of these is a command that prints out the contents of the scope’s trace memory as a series of 1-byte integers. With a short bit of PERL programming, [Michael] can create a PDF plot of whatever is on the scope’s screen. It’s formatted perfectly for Gnuplot, MATLAB, or even Excel.

Awesome work, and especially useful given these old scopes are slowly making their way to a technological boneyard somewhere.

Physical orangered notifies you of Reddit messages

Anyone who has been around Reddit enough to anger the hive mind is familiar with the orangered, the envelope icon right next to your username that lights up in a beautiful orangered hue whenever you receive a new message. [Brad] wanted an orangered that was a little more visible, so he created a standalone Reddit message indicator to sit on his desk and light up whenever a new message has been delivered.

The case for [Brad]’s new orangered notifier was taken from a cheap thrift store clock. After dispensing of the mechanical movement, [Brad] loaded up the beautiful wooden case with an Arduino, a trio of LEDs, a speaker, and, of course, a small envelope logo reminiscent of Reddit’s message icon.

The Arduino is connected to a laptop running this Perl script. The script scrapes the JSON returned from the Reddit API and sends a command over the serial port to the Arduino if new messages have been received (source for the Arduino and the notes.h header file). When a new message is received, the Arduino lights up the envelope icon and plays a short sound on the attached speaker.

There are a few improvements [Brad] plans to add to his orangered indicator. First up is getting an Ethernet shield and discarding the server attached to the Arduino. Next up is different lights and tones for different types of messages (PMs, comment replies, and mod mail). Of course the top of our list for [Brad]’s future improvements is actually making the LEDs orangered, but it’s still a very awesome build to allow [Brad] to waste even more time on the Internet’s time sink.

Video after the break.

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Finally, LaTeX in HTML files

Writing a paper in LaTeX will always result in beautiful output, but if you’d like to put that document up on the web you’re limited to two reasonable options: serve the document as a .PDF (with the horrors involves, although Chrome makes things much more palatable), or relying on third-party browser plugins like TeX The World. Now that [Todd Lehman] has finally cooked up a perl script to embed LaTeX in HTML documents, there’s no reason to type e^i*pi + 1 = 0 anymore.

For those not in the know, LaTeX is a document typesetting language that produces beautiful output, usually in PDF form. Unfortunately, when [Tim Berners-Lee] was inventing HTML, he decided to roll his own markup language instead of simply stealing it from [Don Knuth]. Since then, LaTeX aficionados have had to make do with putting TeX snippets into web pages as images or relying on the [; \LaTeX ;] generated from the TeX The World browser extension.

[Todd Lehman]’s perl script generates the PDF of his LaTeX file and pulls out all the weird font and math symbols into PNG files. These PNG files are carefully embedded into the HTML file generated from the normal text pulled from the LaTeX file. It’s a ton of work to get these document systems working correctly, but at least there’s a reasonable way to put good-looking LaTeX on the web now.

Web-enabling your smoke breaks

If you’re going to freeze your butt off smoking in the middle of winter you might was well have company while you’re out there. [Zach’s] company wanted to crunch some data about smoking breaks and worker productivity. Instead of just meeting the bland data collection needs he decided to add functionality.

He took time to explain the different parts of the system. Above you can see the web interface that lets you know which of your coworkers are smoking right now. It also lets you click to check in and out from your breaks. After this was up and running he found that often the smokers forgot to ‘clock out’ before a break. As a backup system he build a physical interface on the way out of the office. Each smoker has their own button with a corresponding LED. If the light’s on you’re having a break and when it’s off you’re working. This controller is Arduino based and uses a Perl script to monitor the input and sync both that physical display and the web interface. [Zach] posted a few pictures if you want to take a look at the rest of the system.

Building a bandwidth meter

Here’s an analog bandwidth meter made to look like an old pressure gauge. It’s actually new, but the paper showing the graduated scale was stained in a bath of black tea, then dried in an oven to give it an aged appearance. We think it’s quite effective.

The dial itself is a volt meter driven by an Arduino in much the same way as the multimeter clock. Bandwidth data is pulled from a Linux router, filtered down to the target data using ‘grep’, and sent over the serial connection by a Perl script. Since the meter itself is just waiting for serial data, alterations to the router’s scripting make it easy to represent a count of unread emails, tweets, or whatever data your code can scrape.

[Thanks Ben]

IM-ME graphic manipulation using sprites

Here’s a study in sprite animations that [Travis Goodspeed] put together. He’s working with one of his favorites, the pink IM-ME device that he’s been hacking on for a while now. But if you don’t have this hardware that shouldn’t discourage you. There’s a lot to be learned from his methods which will translate to any microcontroller working with a graphic LCD.

He starts with a 24-bit PNM sprite that includes three frames of his desired animation. From there he needs a way to store the data for use with 8-bit microcontrollers. He chose to write a Perl script that will translate the image format into a 1-bit map. Each frame of the animation takes up a column width that is a multiple of 8 for easy retrieval by the processor. This translation into a C array, and the accompanying code that translates it into data for the frame buffer is the key to the animation process. What is he shooting for? A sprite-based video game on the handheld.

Another approach to power meter data harvesting

[Dodgy] wrote in to talk about his power meter data harvesting programs. This uses the same hardware by CurrentCost as the hack we looked at over the weekend but [Dodgy’s] implementation is different. It’s separated into two parts, the first is a webserver written in C that harvests the data and makes it available at an address on the network, the second is written in Perl to format and upload data to Google PowerMeter.

The C program serves data on a configurable port, defaulting to 3090. All of the data can be accessed in one line of code by loading, or individually with subdirectories like /watts, /time, or /tempr. From there you can do what you want with the data. The second part of [Dodgy’s] suite is a Perl script that polls the C server and sends the data to your Google account.

One thing that interests us is his comment that you should be able to compile the server side C code for an embedded device. It would be a nice energy savings to be able to upload data regularly without a PC running constantly.