Oscilloscope Learns How To Speak Japanese, And VGA

Nostalgia aside, there are a few things an analog scope can still do better than a digital, with oscilloscope art being a prime example. The blue-green glow of phosphors in a real CRT just add something special to such builds, and as a practitioner of this craft, [Aaron] decided to paint a New Year’s affirmation on his oscilloscope screen, in Japanese calligraphy of all things.

When used in X-Y mode, analog oscilloscopes lend themselves nicely to vector-based graphics, which is the approach [Aaron] has taken with previous “Oscilloclock” builds, like the Metropolis Clock. The current work, however, doesn’t use vector graphics, opting instead to turn the scope into the business end of a VGA display. He had previously developed the hardware needed to convert a VGA signal into X- and Y-axis analog outputs, so the bulk of the work was rendering the calligraphy, first in ink and then scanning and processing the results into a file. In keeping with the Japanese theme, [Aaron] chose a rare scope from Nihon Tsushinki Co., Ltd., from 1963. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment and obviously lovingly restored, and with the VGA adapter temporarily connected, the four Japanese characters scroll gracefully up the screen, delivering the uplifting message: “Steady progress, day by day.

[Aaron] sure puts a lot of work into his analog scope builds, which we’ve featured a few times. Check out the clock he made from Grandpa’s old Heathkit scope, or his Tektronic vectorscope clock. And don’t forget about other forms of oscilloscope art — they can make music too, after all.

Dead Simple Time-Domain Reflectometry With Just A Battery And An Oscilloscope

“Time-domain reflectometry” sure sounds like something that needs racks of expensive equipment to accomplish. In reality, TDR is just measuring the time between injecting a pulse into a cable and receiving its echo, either from the other end of the cable or from some fault or defect along the way. It’s a useful technique, and as [Allen Wolke (W2AEW)] shows us, it can be accomplished with little more than a battery, a resistor, and an oscilloscope. And a little math, of course.

There are, of course, dedicated time-domain reflectometers, but all of them are really just elaborations of the basic principles [W2AEW] demonstrates with his simple setup. The oscilloscope is set up with a tee connector on one channel; one side of the tee is connected to the cable under test, while the shield conductor of the other side is connected to the negative terminal of a 9V battery. A resistor connected to the center conductor is used to complete the circuit, which sends a brief pulse down the test cable. The scope is set up to capture the outgoing pulse as well as the return pulse, allowing the time between the two to be measured. Some simple math gives the length of the cable, the distance to a fault, or with a little rearrangement, the velocity factor of the cable.

The video below shows the simple method at work on coax and Cat 5e Ethernet cable. It even worked on a roll of zip cable, which was a little surprising. If this technique is too simple, you can always elaborate a bit and roll your own TDR tester. Googly eyes optional, of course, but recommended.

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Cardboard Models Trace Design Process Of Vintage Tektronix Miniscopes

There aren’t many brands that inspire the kind of passion and fervency among its customers as Tektronix does. The venerable Oregon-based manufacturer of top-end test equipment has produced more collectible gear over the last 75 years than just about anyone else.

Over that time they have had plenty of innovations, and in the 1970s they started looking into miniaturizing their flagship oscilloscopes. The vintageTEK museum, run by current and former employees, has a review of the design process of the 200 series of portable oscilloscopes that’s really interesting. At a time when scopes were portable in the way a packed suitcase is portable, making a useful instrument in a pocketable form factor was quite a challenge — even for big pockets.

The article goes into great detail on the back-and-forth between the industrial designers, with their endless stream of models, and the engineers who would actually have to stuff a working scope into whatever case they came up with. The models from the museum’s collection are wonderful bits of history and show where the industrial designers really pushed for some innovative designs.

Some of the models are clearly derived from the design of the big bench scopes, but some have innovative flip-down covers and other interesting elements that never made it to production. Most of the models are cardboard, but some were made of aluminum in the machine shop and sport the familiar “Tek blue” livery. But the pièce de résistance of the collection is a working engineering model of what would become the 200-series of miniscopes, a handmade prototype with a tiny round CRT and crudely labeled controls.

The vintageTEK museum sounds like another bucket-list stop for computer and technology history buffs. Tek has been doing things their own way for a long time, and stopping by the museum is sure to be a treat.

Thanks to [Tanner Bass] for the tip.

Upgrading A Classic Function Generator

If you need an oscilloscope, function generator, or other piece of kit for your electronics workbench, there are plenty of modern options. Dropping $4,000 for a modern oscilloscope is nice if you have the money, but if you’d rather put it to better use there are great options that don’t cost a fortune. There are some addons that can turn a smartphone into an oscilloscope but one of the best values out there are older pieces of equipment from the 80s that still work great. You can even upgrade them with some more modern features too, like [NFM] did with this vintage function generator.

This function generator is an HP3325A and it is several decades old, so some work was needed just to restore it to original working condition. The cooling fan and capacitors all needed to be replaced, as well as a few other odds and ends. From there [NFM] set about adding one of the two optional upgrades available for this device, the high voltage output. This allows the function generator to output 40 volts peak-to-peak at 40 milliamps. While he did have an original version from HP, he actually had a self-made design produced that matches the function of the original.

Even if you don’t have this specific function generator, this guide goes into great details about the functioning of older equipment like this. Most of the parts are replaceable and upgrades aren’t completely out of the question like some modern equipment, and with the right care and maintenance these pieces of equipment could last for decades longer.

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Toy O-Scope Is Dope

Not many of our childhood doll and action figure’s accessories revolved around lab equipment except maybe an Erlenmeyer flask if they were a “scientist.” No, they tended to be toasters, vehicles, and guns. When we were young, our heroes made food, drove sexy automobiles, and fought bad guys. Now that we’re older, some of our heroes wield soldering irons, keyboards, and oscilloscopes. [Adrian Herbez] made a scale model oscilloscope that outshines the beakers and test tube racks of yesteryear. Video also shown below. Continue reading “Toy O-Scope Is Dope”

Antique Oscilloscope Gets New Home And Purpose

As the pace of technology charges blindly forward, a lot of older tools or products get left in the dust, forgotten to most but those left with them. This doesn’t mean they’re useless, though. In fact, old technology that continues to survive in the present tends to be more robust and sturdy than most modern, cheap replacements. While this might be survivorship bias, this is certainly true in particular of oscilloscopes. Rugged CRTs in large metal housings with discrete through-hole components in simple layouts made them reliable, but they’re heavy, bulky, and lack features of modern instruments. With some modifications, though, you can give them a new home and keep their vintage aesthetic.

[BuildComics] had just such an oscilloscope on hand and set out to make it into something useful but aesthetically pleasing as well. With a small circuit board, formerly available as a kit from Sparkfun/Dutchtronix but now only available if you can build them yourself, the cathode ray tube can be modified to output not waveforms but rather a working clock face. The donor oscilloscope was a Heathkit IO-102 which was fine for its time but is now lacking, so the CRT was removed from its housing and placed in a custom-built enclosure with a 40s radio style that suits its new purpose well.

Seeing old hardware that is past its prime being put to work in a new way is great, both from a technical standpoint and also because that’s usable hardware that’s being kept out of the landfill. Oscilloscopes are popular for projects like these too since they are relatively easy to understand and modify. Besides being used as clocks, we’ve also seen them modified to play video games such as Pac-Man.

Inside A $30,000 8 GHz Scope

One of the best things about the Internet — especially the video part — is that you can get exposed to lots of things you might otherwise not be able to see. Take oscilloscopes, for example. If you were lucky, you might have one or two really nice instruments at work and you certainly weren’t going to be allowed to tear them open if they were working well. [The Signal Path], as a case in point, tears down a $30,000 MSO6 8 GHz oscilloscope.

Actually, the base price is not quite $30,000 but by the time you outfit one, you’ll probably break the $30K barrier. Compared to the scopes we usually get to use, these are very different. Sure, the screens are larger and denser, but looking at the circuit boards they look more like some sort of high-end computer than an oscilloscope. Of course, in a way, that’s exactly what it is.

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