No More Floppy Drives For This Agilent Scope

When [kiwih] picked up an Agilent 54621A scope, he was amused that it had a floppy disk. At one time, it was high-tech to use a disk to transfer scope data to your computer. Today, not so much. However, on the back was a serial port. Surely it was possible to read data from there. It is, and what results is a nice walkthrough of finding the port’s info and interfacing with it using Python.

Normally, you’d use the included BenchLinkXL software to grab data from the port, but that software is so old it would not run under Windows 10 or Wine. Searching didn’t turn up much on the serial port, but it did locate a manual for a similar Agilent scope. That manual wasn’t too helpful since it assumed you were connecting via a LAN or USB. However, it did make reference to an older model that was also similar and that was the key to finding a manual that did explain the serial port protocol.

The command set looks suspiciously like SCPI — Standard Commands for Programmable Instruments — which is a layer on top of the GPIB protocol. Many scopes speak that language, so that’s not surprising. That also means if you are in the mood to communicate with an SCPI scope, you might find the code useful, even if you don’t use a serial port or have this exact Agilent model.

SCPI has a lot of uses. For example, try talking to your scope. The cheap Rigol and similar scopes usually have SCPI and you can control and read them using the same kind of techniques.

KVM Uses Many Arduinos

The Arduino platform is one of the most versatile microcontroller boards available, coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes perfect for everything from blinking a few LEDs to robotics to entire home automation systems. One of its more subtle features is the ability to use its serial libraries to handle keyboard and mouse duties. While this can be used for basic HID implementations, [Nathalis] takes it a step further by using a series of Arduinos as a KVM switch; although admittedly without the video and mouse functionality yet.

To start, an Arduino Uno accepts inputs from a keyboard which handles the incoming serial signals from the keyboard. From there, two Arduino Pro Micros are attached in parallel and receive signals from the Uno to send to their respective computers. The scroll lock key, which doesn’t do much of anything in modern times except upset Excel spreadsheeting, is the toggle switch between the two outputs. Everything is standard USB HID, so it should be compatible with pretty much everything out there. All of the source code and schematics are available in the project’s repository for anyone who wants to play along at home.

Using an Arduino to emulate a USB input device doesn’t have to be all work and no play, the same basic concept can also be used to build custom gaming controllers.

A Mini USB Keyboard That Isn’t A Keyboard

A useful add-on for any computer is a plug-in macro keyboard, a little peripheral that adds those extra useful buttons to automate tasks. [Sayantan Pal] has made one, a handy board with nine programmable keys and a USB connector, but the surprise is that at its heart lies only the ubiquitous ATmega328 that you might find in an Arduino Uno. This isn’t a USB HID keyboard, instead it uses a USB-to-serial chip and appears to the host computer as a serial device. The keys themselves are simple momentary action switches, perhaps a deluxe version could use key switches from the likes of Cherry or similar.

The clever part of this build comes on the host computer, which runs some Python code using the PyAutoGui library. This allows control of the keyboard and mouse, and provides an “in” for the script to link serial and input devices. Full configurability is assured through the Python code, and while that might preclude a non-technical user from gaining its full benefit it’s fair to say that this is not intended to compete with mass-market peripherals. It’s a neat technique for getting the effect of an HID peripheral though, and one to remember for future use even if you might not need it immediately.

More conventional USB keyboards have appeared here in the past, typically using a processor with built-in USB HID support such as the ATmega32u4.

Add-On Makes ESP32 Camera Board Easier To Program

Don’t you just hate it when dev boards have some annoying little quirk that makes them harder to use than they should be? Take the ESP32-CAM, a board that started appearing on the market in early 2019. On paper, the thing is amazing: an ESP32 with support for a camera and an SD card, all for less than $10. The trouble is that programming it can be a bit of a pain, requiring extra equipment and a spare finger.

Not being one to take such challenges lying down, [Bitluni] has come up with a nice programming board for the ESP32-CAM that you might want to check out. The problem stems from the lack of a USB port on the ESP32-CAM. That design decision leaves users in need of a USB-to-serial adapter that has to be wired to the GPIO pins of the camera board so that programs can be uploaded from the Arduino IDE when the reset button is pressed. None of that is terribly complex, but it is inconvenient. His solution is called cam-prog, and it takes care of not only the USB conversion but also resetting the board. It does that by simply power cycling the camera, allowing sketches to be uploaded via USB. It looks to be a pretty handy board, which will be available on his Tindie store.

To demonstrate the add-on, he programmed his ESP32-CAM and connected it to his enormous ping pong ball video wall. The video quality is about what you’d expect from a 1,200 pixel display at 40 mm per pixel, but it’s still pretty smooth – smooth enough to make his interpretive dance moves in the last few minutes of the video pretty interesting.

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Upgrade Board Turns Typewriter Into A Teletype

It may come as little surprise to find that Hackaday does not often play host to typewriter projects. While these iconic machines have their own particular charm, they generally don’t allow for much in the way of hardware modification. But then the IBM Wheelwriter 1000 isn’t exactly a traditional typewriter, which made its recent conversion to a fully functional computer terminal possible.

A product of the Computer History Museum’s [IBM 1620 Jr. Team], this modification takes the form of a serial interface board that can be built at home and installed into the Wheelwriter. The board allows the vintage electronic typewriter to speak RS-232 and USB, so it can be connected to whatever vintage (or not so vintage) computer you can imagine. The documentation for the project gives a rough cost of $150, though that does assume you’ve already got a Wheelwriter 1000 kicking around.

The GitHub repository includes everything you need to create your own board, and there’s even a highly detailed installation guide that goes over the case modifications necessary to get the new hardware installed. It also explains that you’ll want to get a new keycap set for your Wheelwriter if you perform this modification, as the original board doesn’t have all of the ASCII characters.

So why adapt an old electric typewriter to function as a teletype? As explained by the [IBM 1620 Jr. Team], there are projects out there looking to recreate authentic 1960s-era computing experiences that need a (relatively) affordable paper terminal. The originals are too rare to use in modern recreations, but with their adapter board, these slightly less archaic input devices can be used in their place.

Once you’ve built your new teletype, or in the somewhat unlikely event you already have one at the ready, we’ve seen a couple of projects that you might be interested in to put it to use.

Reverse Engineering A Two-Wire Intercom

There was a time when an intercom was simply a pair of boxes with speakers joined by a couple of wires, with an audio amplifier somewhere in the mix. But intercoms have like everything else joined the digital age, so those two wires now carry a load of other functionality as digital signalling. [Aaron Christophel] installs these devices for a living, and has posted a fascinating reverse engineering video that we’ve also placed below the break.

Power for the system is present as a constant 24V DC, and the audio is still an old-fashioned analogue signal that we’ll all be familiar with. On that 24V DC though are imposed a series of pulse trains to trigger the different alarms and other functions, and he describes extracting these with an oscilloscope before showing us the circuitry he’s used to send and receive pulses with an Arduino. The bulk of the video is then devoted to the software on the Arduino, which you can also find in a GitHub repository.

The result is an interesting primer for anyone who fancies a bit of serial detective work, even if they don’t have a intercom to hand.

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2D-Scanner Records Surfboard Profiles For Posterity

[Ryan Schenk] had a problem: he built the perfect surfboard. Normally that wouldn’t present a problem, but in this case, it did because [Ryan] had no idea how he carved the gentle curves on the bottom of the board. So he built this homebrew 2D-scanner to make the job of replicating his hand-carved board a bit easier.

Dubbed the Scanbot 69420 – interpretation of the number is left as an exercise for the reader, my dude – the scanner is pretty simple. It’s just an old mouse carrying a digital dial indicator from Harbor Freight. The mouse was gutted, with even the original ball replaced by an RC plane wheel. The optical encoder and buttons were hooked to an Arduino, as was the serial output of the dial indicator. The Arduino consolidates the data from both sensors and sends a stream of X- and Z-axis coordinates up the USB cable as the rig slides across the board on a straightedge. On the PC side, a Node.js program turns the raw data into a vector drawing that represents the profile of the board at that point. Curves are captured at various points along the length of the board, resulting in a series of curves that can be used to replicate the board.

Yes, this could have been done with a straightedge, a ruler, and a pencil and paper – or perhaps with a hacked set of calipers – but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. And we can certainly see applications for this far beyond the surfboard shop.