Fun with Electronics

I see that I haven’t posted about some of my toys before. That needs correcting.

Starting with older (recent) toys, I’ve been playing quite a bit with Arduino boards, both for fun and also for my undergraduate robotics course at Athabasca University, COMP444. This course comes with the Sparkfun Software Inventor’s Kit, which contains an Arduino, a perfboard and lots of wires and electronic components to interact with the Arduino. It’s a fun course.

A while ago I bought a better oscilloscope. I had the equivalent of the SEEED micro scope, which is about the size of an iphone. It works, but has several issues related mostly to how little it costs. In an effort to improve my scope (pun!) I bought a Rigol DS1102E from for a reasonable price (but about 6x the SEEED scope). It’s very nearly a professional scope, and works very well.

So before Christmas I was challenged to make Lissajou figures on the Rigol. You need a signal generator, and I don’t have one. But I do have an Arduino, so hunted about the internet and found a few ‘signal generator with Arduino’ programs. In the end I was able to create a very satisfying Lissajou figure with the Arduino and the Rigol. I even found a program that uses the Arduino to draw a Christmas tree on the scope!

I’ve also always loved older computers. Things like the Heath H8 (my personal ‘want’ from when I was a teen), the IMSAI 8080 and otherĀ  older computers. I’ve managed to obtain an Apple Lisa, A 512K Mac, an IBM RS6000, several SUN Solaris Sparc 1 boxes and even an HP 9000 (full rack mount unit). Sadly, I had to give them all away when we moved or else the moving bill would have been even worse!

Lately I’ve been bitten by the bug again. This time I started with a mini version of the Cosmac ELF, called the Membership Card. It’s a fully functional copy of the Elf but sized to fit inside an Altoids tin. It was fun to build and is still fun to run. It currently sits powered up running a 1-D game of Life.

Now I’ve upped the ante. I bought a PDP8 front end that is an almost perfect replica of the front panel of the PDP8, but uses a newer Raspberry Pi as the actual computer. The Pi runs SIMH, which is an almost universal “old time computer simulator”. You can get SIMH configurations for various PDP variants, HP machines and many other older brands. I have yet to build the PDP8 front panel, but soon…

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