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The Foxee Animatronic Robot Project Blog

Archives for: September 2005

My Life In Stereo!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

The song 'Life in Stereo' being played through my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope

The Just Add Water song "Life In Stereo" being played through my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope

You're looking at one of my insanely great new toys, the Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope that I purchased from my scientist friend from Fermilab! While I suppose that I should be something useful with this particular piece of sophisticated testing equipment such as troubleshooting electronic circuitry or checking my amateur radio equipment for good transmit signal quality, like any good mad scientist I opted to do something that was cool and completely useless with this oscilloscope instead-- I hooked it up to my stereo system! I am sure you are saying, "But oh smart, wise, and incredibly dashing mad scientist sir, shouldn't you be doing more useful things with this piece of equipment that you worked so hard to get?" Well, as of right now, no. I purchased two oscilloscopes from my Fermilab scientist friend, and my other oscilloscope is a much more powerful and sensitive Hewlett-Packard Model 130BR oscilloscope. I will be using the Hewlett-Packard oscilloscope for all of my electronics and robotics work. In fact, I intend on using the Hewlett-Packard scope to start looking at the output signals created by my homebrew servo controller boards that I built back in January very soon! If I come up with something more important that my Heathkit oscilloscope could be doing, I will take it off of stereo duty and use it for real work.

My Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope hooked up to my stereo system
At first I was very nervous about hooking my Heathkit oscilloscope up to my stereo system. I wasn't sure what the impedance of the electromagnets in my stereo's speakers and my oscilloscope's electron gun were, so I was afraid that an impedance imbalance between the two devices could damage one or both pieces of electronics. I later found out that I didn't really have anything to worry about and that I was being very over cautious, and once my fears were set aside it took longer for me to move the stereo away from the wall to get to the speaker outputs on the back of the unit than it did to actually hook up the stereo to the oscilloscope. Two simple 12-gauge wires from my electronics toolbox attached to each device and I was in business!

What I did to hook up my stereo to my oscilloscope was to shove my two 12-gauge wires into the back of the right stereo speaker's output along with the right speaker's wires. This insured that I will still get sound going out of my right speaker even though that speaker's output would also be hooked up to the oscilloscope. I then ran the two 12-gauge wires from the right speaker output and hooked it up to the vertical input on my oscilloscope. I then set the base sweep speed to 10Hz and adjusted it until I got some very good looking signal waveforms on the oscilloscope's display. I could have additionally hook the left stereo speaker's output to the horizontal input on my oscilloscope to get some funky circular patterns on the display, but I thought that this looked much cooler!

While I don't know too much about the history of my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope, I am assuming that it dates back to around the late 1960's or so. It is filled with glowing vacuum tubes, and the oscilloscope gets fairly warm when it is turned on and fills my room with a wonderful musty electronics smell. I suppose that most mundane people wouldn't consider the smell of ozone coming from a vintage electronic device to be the most delightful of aromas, but to a mad scientist it's heaven! While I could probably be accused of being over-easily entertained, I never get tired of watching the oscilloscope when I am playing music, and I mess around with it nearly every day! I have wanted my very own oscilloscope for more than half a decade now, so for me this thing is the absolute coolest toy I have gotten in a long time and a dream come true! Now if I could only find a way to impress the single women at the bars with it....

My Heathkit oscilloscope during an intense part of a song

To give you an idea of what you are looking at in the photos above, the dark rectangular object with the circular screen in the middle of the photo is my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope, and underneath it is my stereo system, which as you can see is 27-seconds into a track that it is playing. Directly to the right of the oscilloscope is a tower of music CD's. The glass jar with the radiation symbol on it that is sitting on top of the stack of CD's actually has radioactive material in it-- it is filled with vaseline glass marbles which contain a little bit of Uranium in them to give them their yellow-green color. They have so little radioactivity in them that the glass marbles are completely safe to own in any amount and are unregulated by the government. I have some of these marbles because the Uranium makes them glow in the dark underneath a blacklight, which is really cool looking, and because they give me something to test my Russian Military Surplus DRSB-01 handheld Geiger Counter with. (Yes, Russian Military Surplus Geiger Counters are legal for people to own too!) The blue light in the photo is coming from a blue cold-cathode decorative lamp that I own, and the framed picture in the upper-right portion of the background is a limited edition Disney Aristocats pencil drawing from Walt Disney World. Yes, even though it is a bizarre combination, I have a love for Duchess from the Aristocats just like I have a love for high voltage electronics! That's why I am a mad scientist that builds cute animatronic robot foxes instead of death rays and giant peace-keeping robots of mass destruction like all of the other mad scientists that I know in the Mad Scientist's Union! Consider yourselves fortunate that I am not the death ray type and that I like cute fuzzy cartoon characters instead! As always, comments about my projects are welcome!

I've Been Promoted to General!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

A General Class FCC Amateur Radio License that is! Tonight I took my Element 3 written exam for the license at the DuPage Amateur Radio Club volunteer examination meeting, and I was able to pass the exam on my first try despite the fact that I had only covered about two-thirds of the study material in my Gordon West General Class examination preparation book! I held a Technician Plus class amateur radio license before, which gave me transmitting privileges on many VHF, UHF, and microwave radio frequency bands and some low-power transmitting privileges on some tiny portions of the shortwave radio bands, but now with my new General Class license I can transmit on the vast majority of the shortwave bands at a peak envelope power of 1500 Watts! That is more than enough power to talk to other amateur radio operators across the globe, and even bounce radio signals off the moon and back to earth! Now if I could only afford an HF radio transceiver that could take advantage of my new license privileges.... In any case, for the next week over the air instead of identifying myself as just my normal radio call sign "KB9MFT," I can identify myself as "KB9MFT Temporary AG," which will let others know that I recently upgraded my license!

While I am not a very active amateur radio operator these days because I am so busy working on my artwork, animation, animatronics, and electronics, if you are interested in hearing me on the air I occasionally pop onto "The Night Patrol Net" run by the Argonne Amateur Radio Club every night at 10:30PM. The Night Patrol Net is run on the W9ANL Repeater Station, which is located on the grounds of Argonne National Laboratory just north of Lemont, IL with a output frequency of 145.19 MHz and a input frequency of 144.59 MHz.

Press Any Key to Continue....

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

In my Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal post to this blog I mentioned that one of my preliminary projects that I was going to do that was designed to help teach me the skills I would need to have in order to build my Foxee animatronic robot was to learn woodworking by building an authentic Apple I wood case for my Replica I clone microcomputer. The internal frame of Foxee is going to be made largely of plywood, and as a result I need to have some skill with a power jigsaw in order to construct this. Since a simple Apple I-style computer case is a lot easier to construct out of wood than a robot fox skeleton, I decided that constructing the wood computer case wood be excellent jigsaw practice before I tackled the more daring project. Unfortunately, there was one major thing that was keeping me from constructing my Apple I computer case-- the lack of an Apple-I compatible keyboard to mount into the case!

Steve Wozniak's 1976 Apple I Microcomputer used an ASCII-encoded keyboard with a STROBE line. Such keyboards were relatively inexpensive to find parts for and build in 1976, but in 2005 trying to find the parts to build such a keyboard became nearly impossible unless you were willing to shell out some serious money to a cutthroat obsolete electronics components dealer. There were two other easy ways to get an authentic looking ASCII Keyboard that was Apple I compatible and would as a result work with my Replica I kit computer. The first route is to be lucky enough to find an ASCII keyboard that was pulled out of either an original Apple II or Apple II+ computer, but these keyboards are scarce at best because the Apple II's and Apple II+'s are in themselves collector items now. Keyboards from an Apple IIe, which are as common as stink, will not work unmodified with a Apple I because Apple IIe computers use binary matrix encoded keyboards instead of ASCII-encoded keyboards.

Another solution is to take a matrix keyboard, like the one from the Apple IIe, and either hook it up to a custom hand-built ASCII encoder circuit board or hook it up to a microcontroller that would translate the values from the keyboard to their ASCII code equivalents. I decided to go with this seemingly easier second option. I thought that finding some new old stock keyboards from 1970's and 80's microcomputers would be the hardest components to find, but as it turns out they were fairly easy to come across and I very quickly acquired a keyboard from a Texas Instruments TI-99/4 microcomputer and a keyboard from an Apple IIe "Platinum Edition" microcomputer. Then the devastating truth hit me: I found out that the parts needed to build your own ASCII keyboard encoder board cost tons-- far more than I could afford-- because of all of the rare components that it used. In addition, using a microcontroller chip to translate keyboard values would also cost me quite a bit for parts and for purchasing a microcontroller programmer, and then I would have to figure out how to program the darn things. That would be completely time consuming, and I was very short on time.

Everything looked glum for my Apple I case project after that until I ran across a classified ad of all things for a rare Apple II ASCII keyboard! The rare keyboard cost me an arm an a leg, but it should be directly compatible with an Apple I more or less, however it looks like I may have to do a little bit of wiring to hook the keyboard and the computer together. The keyboard is from fairly early in the original Apple II computer's production run and has "Apple Computer Incorporated, ASSY NO 01-0341-01, MADE IN USA" silk-screened on the front of the PCB, "P C BD 02-2239-01 REV B" silk-screened on the back of the PCB, and "INSP. JUL 6 1977" stamped on the back of the PCB in black ink. You can see a photo of the Apple II keyboard here:

The Apple II keyboard that I purchased

As much as I wished that my ASCII keyboard troubles were over, I still have one more hurdle to go. The schematics I have that show how to hook an ASCII keyboard up to my Replica I kit computer show hooking an Apple II+ keyboard up to it. The Apple II and Apple II+ keyboards are noticeably different with different wiring going to their output connector, which means that I will have to find some schematics for my Apple II keyboard so that I can determine how to wire the two devices together. Hopefully such information will be easy to find, but if my past experiences hold true, it won't be. In any case, I will keep you posted on my progress, and if worse comes to worse there are always those two matrix keyboards that I now have laying around that I can mess with in a pinch!

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