A milestone

Too bad I work alone and mostly at nighttime. Otherwise, I would have some people around to share the sheer joy that I am experiencing right now. For a lack of that, I’ll turn to the web. Just an hour ago, I completed a major milestone in my main project line. I am ecstatic as with work of this magnitude, the light at the end of the tunnel is always months away( and right after, you get into another tunnel…) Here is the writeup on the situation.

I have had a fascination with oscilloscopes for a very long time. While being incredibly useful (for those who are into electronics that is), they have a mysterious sense to them that still gets me after all those years of hanging out with complicated machinery. I remember clearly seeing rows and rows of them during my first university year, having only a very rough idea of what they were for but still knowing, judging by their numbers, that they must be very useful for every electronics bench to get its own. They are what epitomizes the knobs and dials (screen in this case) strange and obscure apparatus of the modern age.

So much so that I decided to program one from scratch for my final engineering project; I had very ambitious plans for it. The electronics would be managed by a Microchip PIC18F4550 – a USB microcontroller – and the application on the host PC would be programmed in C#. Its killer feature would be that its display would be 3D, giving the user one more dimension for visualizing, combining and probing waveforms. Turned out implementing the USB stack was a major bitch (should have used Microchip’s ready-made one…) so I decided to get signals through the sound card input. No big deal, the main application was agnostic as to where its data came from. Then, the 3D part was a huge headache too (80% of the code, a primitive but complete 3D engine), but I got trough it and in the end it worked well enough for a public showing. I will post all its code and some screen shots when I find the motivation too, but for reasons that will be developed upon at this time, I decided no to further its development. Simply put, I had discovered the world of Open Source and realized that platform-locking my project (DirectX, .NET) was not inline with my philosophy of getting good electronic tools in the hand of the masses.

This new one is implemented on an OS of mine (Elements, but beware, the post is very outdated) and thus completely web oriented and RESTful. The user interface is described in XHTML, SVG and JavaScript with all of it getting served along with the oscilloscope function by an ATMega328p with 32kB of static EEPROM storage. That’s a web server, TCP/IP stack, a file system and oscilloscope running on 32kB of Flash, 32kB of EEPROM and 2kB of RAM embarked on a 16 MHz chip! It had been a web server for quite a while, but tonight, I got it to behave like a usable oscilloscope. I am a happy man…

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