A Science Lab In Your Pocket?

Since even the cheapest phone or computer now has plenty of horsepower, there’s been a move to create instruments that can do everything, using a reasonably simple front end and crunching data back on the host device. This is one of those tasks that seems easy, but doing it well turns out to be a lot of effort. One we recently noticed was Pocket Science Lab — a board that connects to your PC or Android phone and provides an oscilloscope, a logic analyzer, a wave generator, a power supply, a multimeter, and a few odd items such as an accelerometer, barometer, compass, and lux meter. The cost is about $65, so it isn’t a big investment. But what can it do? Read on, or you can watch the video below from Geekcamp Singapore.

The datasheet shows a reasonable device, although nothing amazing. The oscilloscope has 4 channels but only does 2 MSPS, so assuming the front end can handle it, you might visualize 1 MHz sine waves. There’s also a 12-bit voltmeter, three 12-bit power supplies with different ranges, a 4 MHz 4 channel logic analyzer, two sine or triangle wave generators, 4 PWM outputs, and the ability to measure capacitance. Finally, there’s a frequency counter that’s good to 16 MHz.

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Break Your Scope’s Bandwidth Barrier

Oscilloscope bandwidth is a tricky thing. A 100 MHz scope will have a defined attenuation (70%) of a 100 MHz sine wave. That’s not really the whole picture, though, because we aren’t always measuring sine waves. A 100 MHz square wave, for example, will have sine wave components at 100 MHz, 300 MHz, and the other odd harmonics. However, it isn’t that a 100 MHz scope won’t show you something at a higher frequency — it just doesn’t get the y-axis right. [Daniel Bogdanoff] from Keysight decided to think outside of the box and made a video about using scopes beyond their bandwidth specification. You can see that video, below.

[Daniel] calls this a “spec hacks” but they aren’t really hacks to the scope. They are just methods that don’t care about the scope’s rated bandwidth. In this particular spec hack, he shows how the frequency counter using a 70 MHz scope’s trigger circuit can actually read up to 410 MHz. A 100 MHz scope was able to read almost 530 MHz.

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Sharpest Color CRT Display is Monochrome Plus a Trick

I recently came across the most peculiar way to make a color CRT monitor. More than a few oscilloscopes have found their way on to my bench over the years, but I was particularly struck with a find from eBay. A quick look at the display reveals something a little alien. The sharpness is fantastic: each pixel is a perfect, uniform-colored little dot, a feat unequaled even by today’s best LCDs. The designers seem to have chosen a somewhat odd set of pastels for the UI though, and if you move your head just right, you can catch flashes of pure red, green, and blue. It turns out, this Tektronix TDS-754D sports a very peculiar display technology called NuColor — an evolutionary dead-end that was once touted as a superior alternative to traditional color CRTs.

Join me for a look inside to figure out what’s different from those old, heavy TVs that have gone the way of the dodo.

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Delicious Vector Game Console Runs Pac-Man, Tetris, and Mario

The only question we have about [mitxela]’s DIY vector graphics game console is: Why did he wait five years to tell the world about it?

Judging by the projects we’ve seen before, from his tiny LED earrings to cramming a MIDI synthesizer into both a DIN plug and later a USB plug, [mitxela] likes a challenge. And while those projects were underway, the game console you’ll see in the video below was sitting on the shelf, hidden away from the world. That’s a shame, because this is quite a build.

Using a CRT oscilloscope in X-Y mode as a vector display, the console faithfully reproduces some classic games, most of which, curiously enough, were not originally vector games. There are implementations of the Anaconda, RetroRacer, and AstroLander minigames from Timesplitter 2. There are also versions of Pac-Man, Tetris, and even Super Mario Brothers. Most of the games were prototyped in JavaScript before being translated into assembly and placed onto EEPROM external cartridges, to be read by the ATMega128 inside the console. Sound and music are generated using the ATMega’s hardware timers, with a little help from a reverse-biased transistor for white noise and a few op-amps.

From someone who claims to have known little about electronics at the beginning of the project, this is pretty impressive stuff. Our only quibbles are the delay in telling us about it, and the lack of an Asteroids implementation. The former is forgivable, though, because the documentation is so thorough and the project is so cool. The latter? Well, one can hope.

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Incredibly Heavy Ornament Likely Inappropriate To Hang On Tree

It’s that time of year again, and the Christmas hacks are flooding in thick and fast. To get into the Christmas spirit,  the FoxGuard team wanted a custom ornament to hang from the tree. They may have gotten more than they bargained for.

It’s a simple build that demonstrates the basic techniques of working with DACs and scopes in a charming holiday fashion. A Tektronix T932A analog oscilloscope is pressed into service as a display, by operating in XY mode. A Teensy 3.5 was then chosen for its onboard digital to analog converters, and used to output signals to draw a Christmas tree and star on the screen.

Old-school coders will appreciate the effort taken to plot the graphics out on graph paper. While the hack doesn’t do anything cutting edge or wild, it’s impressive how quick and easy this is thanks to modern development methods. While the technology to do this has existed for decades, a hacker in 1998 would have spent hours breadboarding a PIC microcontroller with DACs, let alone the coding required. We’ve come a long way.

It’s a bit of fun, but we highly recommend you don’t try and hang an analog scope off your tree at home. These WiFi-controlled ornaments are perhaps more suitable. Video after the break. Continue reading “Incredibly Heavy Ornament Likely Inappropriate To Hang On Tree”

Rigol MSO5000 Hacked, Features Unlocked

Rigol’s test gear has something of a history of being hacked. Years ago the DS1022C oscillocope was hacked to increase bandwidth, and more recently the DS1054Z was hacked to unlock licensed features. Now, it’s the MSO5000’s turn.

Over on the EEVBlog forums a group has been working on hacking another Rigol, the MSO5000, a 70 MHz oscilloscope which can be upgraded to 350 MHz via software licensing. Various other features including a two channel, 25 MHz arbitrary waveform generator are also built-in, but locked out unless a license key is purchased. The group have managed to enable all the locked options without license keys.

The hack is quite simple. The Linux system running on the scope has a default root password of, you guessed it, “root”. After logging in over SSH with these credentials, the user just needs to modify the startup file to add the “-fullopt” flag to the “appEntry” application. This starts the application in a fully unlocked state, which gives access to all the features.

The MSO5000 costs about $1000, and the bandwidth option alone adds over $3000 to the price. If you’re willing to risk your warranty, and you have the skills to edit a file with vi, this hack provides a serious upgrade for free.

If you have a DS1022C you’ll find our reporting on its hack here, and likewise DS1054Z owners will find theirs here.

Header image: EEVBlog.

My Oscilloscope Uses Fire

If you want to visualize sound waves, you reach for your oscilloscope, right? That wasn’t an option in 1905 so physicist [Heinrich Rubens] came up with another way involving flames. [Luke Guigliano] and [Will Peterson] built one of these tubes — known as a Rubens’ tube — and will show you how you can, too. You can see a video of their results, below. Just in case a flame oscilloscope isn’t enough to attract your interest, they are driving the thing with a theremin for extra nerd points.

The guys show a short flame run and one with tall flames. The results are surprising, especially with the short flames. Of course, the time base is the length of the tube, so that limits your measurements. The tube has many gas jets along the length and with a sound source, the height of the flames correspond to the air pressure from the sound inside the tube.

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