The SCPI (Standards Command for Programmable Instruments) protocol is exceptionally popular in lab and workspace tools, letting you configure and fetch data from oscilloscopes and lab scales alike in a standardized way. However, when interfacing with a SCPI device, you need to use a programming guide document if you want to know the commands for any of the inevitably extended features; essentially, SCPI isn’t as human-friendly as you might want. [MisterHW] argues that SCPI could use more discoverability by proposing a HELP? command.
This proposal is so intuitive, it makes you wonder why it isn’t in the base spec. It adds a built-in command that provides information on other commands. Internally, the description is just an extra string parameter that you add to your command definition code, and you can use it to describe the parameter types and ranges it takes. The output is both human-readable and machine-parseable, and as it’s stored within your code, it’s way quicker to update the description string than it is to re-release programming guides. Which are themselves prone to being outdated as-is, so decreasing reliance on them is a win-win.
The proposal makes a lot of sense, and [MisterHW] is willing to back it up with a pull request to the most popular SCPI library,
libscpi. Whenever the pull request finally goes through, you will have the option to easily add the HELP? command support to whatever SCPI-connected device you might have brewing.
While the old devices will eventually fade, SCPI is not about to die out – hackers keep building devices with SCPI as the communication protocol, as the spec is quite powerful. For instance, here’s this fancy temperature logger, or this Source Measurement Unit – both of them use SCPI for hacker-to-device data transfer, and it’s likely to be
libscpi under the hood. Ever wondered what SCPI is all about? Check out our overview!
Updates from the enigmatic [NODE] are unfortunately few and far between these days. In fact his latest post is only the second time we’ve heard from the hacker in 2021. But as we’ve come to expect from his white-on-sorta-black releases, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Just in time to ring in whatever holiday you may celebrate, [NODE] has unveiled The Pinouts Book. A project he’s been working on for some time now with colleague [Baptiste], the free PDF download contains over 300 pages of high-contrast hardware diagrams and their respective pinouts. It’s about as straightforward as you can get, beyond the dedication page in the beginning, there’s not a word of fluff in the entire document. This is a work of hacker minimalism at its best, and we’re all about it.
From audio/video connectors all the way to development boards and single-board computers, The Pinouts Book sticks to the same format of a diagram and accompanying chart, making it exceptionally easy to find what you’re looking for. If you need more information than this streamlined layout can provide, each entry includes a link to a dedicated page on the book’s companion website. This will redirect you to supplemental data such as the manufacturer’s website, the part’s full datasheet, etc.
According to [NODE], the original plan for the Creative Commons BY-SA licensed work was to release it as a physical book, but the project ballooned up to such a scale that they realized it would be much easier to navigate and use as a digital document. While we don’t disagree, a physical release would certainly look lovely on our bookshelf. In the meantime, those who want to support the effort financially can purchase shirts emblazoned with diagrams pulled straight from the book’s pages.
We’ve long believed that a large-format electronic paper device would be an ideal gadget for the hacker’s workbench, as it allows for browsing through schematics and datasheets with a minimum of eye strain. Now we can also add a copy of The Pinouts Book to the list of things we’d install on our hacker-friendly e-ink compendium.
Continue reading “The Pinouts Book Is Here, And It’s Just What You Need”
If you’ve ever examined the messy HTML that results from doing a Save As HTML from Microsoft Word, you can appreciate [Jim Yuill]’s motivation for his WordWebNav (WWN) project. [Jim] uses Word to document his technical projects, and wanted an easy way to generate web pages. Not only is Word-generated HTML nearly unreadable, [Jim] notes there are known bugs, as well. His project attempts to solve these shortcomings, and adds new features like a navigation pane and headers, among others. Here is a link to a dummy project which shows off these features.
There are, of course, other ways of generating web pages from your technical documentation — there is the Markdown / Pandoc combination, various Wiki solutions, or GitHub Pages, for example. If you’re Python-focused, there’s always the Jupyter Notebooks / JupyterLab approach which we wrote about in 2019. But these presume the source documents are in a certain format. If you have years of existing documentation in Word, or you prefer (or are required) to use Word, [Jim]’s WWN tool might be of interest.
The open source, Python-based program can be found in the project’s GitHub repository. [Jim] has a lot of experience writing software, and the clean and well-organized source code reflects this. Do you convert project documentation to HTML for browsing, be it local or online? If so, share your techniques in the comments below.