Blue Pill As A Nerdy Swiss Army Knife

Not everyone can afford an oscilloscope, and some of us can’t find a USB logic analyzer half the time. But we can usually get our hands on a microcontroller kit, which can be turned into a makeshift instrument if given the appropriate code. A perfect example is buck50 developed by [Mark Rubin], an open source firmware to turn a STM32 “Blue Pill” into a multi-purpose test and measurement instrument.

buck50 comes with a plethora of functionality built in which includes an oscilloscope, logic analyzer, and bus monitor. The device is a two way street and also comes with GPIO control as well as PWM output. There’s really a remarkable amount of functionality crammed into the project. [Mark] provides a Python application that exposes a text based UI for configuring and using the device though commands and lots of commands which makes this really nerdy. There are a number of options to visualize the data captured which includes gnuplot, gtk wave and PulseView to name a few.

[Mark] does a fantastic job not only with the firmware but also with the documentation, and we really think this makes the project stand out. Commands are well documented and everything is available on [GitHub] for your hacking pleasure. And if you are about to order a Blue Pill online, you might want to check out the nitty-gritty of the clones that are floating around.

Thanks [JohnU] for the tip!

Custom Electronic Load Makes Use Of Gaming PC Tech

At first glance, you might think the piece of hardware pictured here is a modern gaming computer. It’s got water cooling, RGB LED lighting, and an ATX power supply, all of which happen to be mounted inside a flashy computer case complete with a clear window. In truth, it’s hard to see it as anything but a gaming PC.

In actuality, it’s an incredible custom electronic load that [EE for Everyone] has been developing over the last four months that’s been specifically designed to take advantage of all the cheap hardware out there intended for high-performance computers. After all, why scratch build a water cooling system or enclosure when there’s such a wide array of ready-made ones available online?

The “motherboard” with single load module installed.

Inside that fancy case is a large PCB taking the place of the original motherboard, to which four electronic load modules slot into. Each of these loads is designed to accept a standard Intel CPU cooler, be it the traditional heatsink and fan, or a water block for liquid cooling. With the current system installed [EE for Everyone] can push the individual modules up to 275 watts before the temperatures rise to unacceptable levels, though he’s hoping to push that a little higher with some future tweaks.

So what’s the end game here? Are we all expected to have a massive RGB-lit electronic load hidden under the bench? Not exactly. All of this has been part of an effort to design a highly accurate electronic load for the hobbyist which [EE for Everyone] refers to as the “Community Edition” of the project. Those smaller loads will be derived from the individual modules being used in this larger testing rig.

We’ve actually seen DIY liquid cooled electronic loads in the past, though this one certainly sets the bar quite a bit higher. For those with more meager requirements, you might consider flashing a cheap imported electronic load with an open source firmware to wring out some extra functionality.

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Textmeter Tells Its Tale

One time-proven method to make a lesson memorable is to make it a story, but that is not easy if your core material is the repair log of a rotted out analog ammeter. Most folks don’t need a 300A meter on their drill press, so [Build Comics] converted it to a text display and describes the procedure like they are writing a comic book. He is using HDLO-3416 LED cluster arrays for that dated-but-legible industrial feel, and everything looks right at home in a box made from oak and steel. Even the USB cord even gets a facelift by running it inside a fabric shoelace. In our own lives, covering charging cables is a hack on its own because we don’t want to fumble with the wrong charger when it is time to sleep or drive. Glow-in-the-dark cord upgrades, anyone?

We don’t have a pre-operation picture of the subject, but the innards suggest that it comes from the bottom of an industrial scrap pile. There is a cross-hatch pattern on the front plate, which hinted at 3D printing, but if you look closely at the early images, you can see that it is original. There is a nodeMCU board to fetch the date information and control the four alphanumeric displays. Except for the red lights, all the new hardware hides behind wood or steel, so this old workhorse’s aesthetic lives on and has a story to share that is a delight to read.

If you enjoy reading [Build Comics] and their adventurous recollections, we forecast you’ll enjoy this weather display, or maybe it is time to check out their clock, but we want to plant the seed of literary build logs.

Amp Volt Ohm Meter Model 8 Mark III From The 1960s

There’s hardly any piece of test equipment more fundamental than a volt ohm meter. Today you’re likely to have a digital one, but for most of history, these devices had real needle meters. The AVOmeter Model 8 Mark III that [Jeff Tranter] shows off had an odd banana-shaped meter. Maybe that goes with the banana plugs. You can get a closer view of this vintage piece of equipment in the video after the break.

Even the outside description of the meter is interesting. There were several unique features. For example, if the meter goes full scale a little button pops out and disconnects the probes to protect the meter. Another unusual control reversed the polarity of the leads so you didn’t have to swap them manually.

Some of the other features will be familiar to anyone who has used a good analog meter. For example, the meter movement has a mirror under the needle. This is used to make sure you are looking straight down on the needle when making readings. If you can see the reflection of the needle, then you are off to one side and will not read the precise value you are interested in.

If you only want to see the insides, [Jeff] teases you until around the six minute mark. There are no active devices and this meter is old enough to not use a printed circuit board. The AC ranges work with a transformer and germanium diodes. The rest of the circuit is mostly a bunch of resistors.

The point to point wiring always makes us wonder who built this thing sixty years ago. You can only wonder what they would think if they knew we were looking at their handiwork in the year 2020.

We see a lot of meter clocks, but it would be a shame to tear this unique meter apart for its movement. Perhaps someone should make a clock that outputs a voltage to a terminal so you could read it with your favorite meter. This instrument was probably pretty precise for its day, but we doubt it can match a modern 6.5 digit digital instrument.

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How To Design A Low Cost Probe-Oscilloscope

[Mark Omo] sends in his write up on the design of what should hopefully be a sub-$100 oscilloscope in a probe. 

Many problems in engineering can be solved simply by throwing money at the them. It’s really when you start to apply constraints that the real innovation happens. The Probe-Scope Team’s vision is of a USB oscilloscope with 60MHz bandwidth and 25Msps. The cool twist is that by adding another probe to a free USB port on your computer you’re essentially adding a channel. By the time you get to four you’re at the same price as a normal oscilloscope but with an arguably more flexible set-up.

The project is also open source. When compared to popular oscilloscopes such as a Rigol it has pretty comparable performance considering how many components each channel on a discount scope usually share due to clever switching circuitry.

The probe is based around an Analog Devices ADC whose data is handled by a tag team of a Lattice FPGA and a 32bit PIC micro controller. You can see all the code and design files on their github. Their write-up contains a very thorough explanation of the circuitry. We hope they keep the project momentum going!

Digital Oscilloscope Does Its Best Analog Impression

Do you ever find yourself yearning for the days before digital storage oscilloscopes (DSOs)? Where even the basic scopes commanded four figures, and came in a bench-dominating form factor? No, of course you don’t. The DSO is a wonder of modern technology: for a couple hundred bucks you can have capabilities that previously would have been outside the reach of hobbyists, all in a package that’s small enough to fit on even the most cramped workbenches.

Which is why the good folks of the EEVblog forums are so confused about the OWON AS101, a modern digital oscilloscope that’s designed to look and operate like the analog CRT monsters of old. Despite the 3.7 inch LCD, users are treated to the classic analog scope look, and the switches and knobs on the front should trigger a wave of nostalgia for hackers of a certain age.

But this isn’t just some “retro” look-alike, OWON is committed to delivering on that analog experience by taking away all those modern digital features we’ve become so dependant on. This single-channel scope can’t save data to USB, doesn’t have any sort of protocol decoding capabilities, and forget about automatic…well, anything. It’s even limited to 20 MHz, just like the old-school CRT scopes that you pick up for a song at any swap meet. All for the low, low, price of $150 USD from the usual importers.

In the EEVblog thread, the best idea anyone can come up with is that the OWON AS101 is designed for educational markets in developing countries, where outdated equipment is so common that there may actually be a need for faux-analog oscilloscopes to match what’s already in use. These new-manufactured “analog” trainers can be used to get students ready to a professional life of using antiquated technology. It’s hard to believe, but sometimes we can forget how fortunate many of us are to have easy access to cheap tools and equipment.

Even still, when you can get a pocket-sized 10 MHz DSO for around $50, it’s difficult to imagine how this analog-digital hybrid could possibly attract any takers at 3x times the price. If any of our readers would care to shed some light on this unusual piece of gear, we’d love to hear it.

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A Function Generator In Its Purest Form

If you have a modern function generator on your bench it is quite likely to contain a direct-digital synthesis circuit that creates arbitrary waveforms using a microprocessor controlled DAC. If you have a cheap function generator it’s likely to contain a one-chip solution that generates approximations to sine and triangle waveforms through modifying a square wave with a set of filters.

These methods both produce adequate waveforms for most of your function generator needs, but they are both far from perfect for the purist. Both methods introduce some distortion, and to address this [michal777] has produced a generator that takes the process back to basics with all stages implemented using building block ICs and transistors. The circuit follows the same square-wave-modifying path as the cheaper integrated devices, but with significant attention paid to the design to ensure that it does as good a job as possible. It also makes for a fascinating dive into function generator design.

The generator hardware has been neatly fitted onto a PCB with a riser for a set of front panel controls. He shares a few pictures of previous designs. We particularly like one that appears to have been fitted into a redundant cooking pot.

We’ve brought you a few function generators over the years. If you’ve got one of the cheaper examples, we’ve even covered how you might improve it a little.