Bicycle Tour 2022

I really love bicycle touring. My last bike tour was back in July 2019 and took like 16 days and approx. 1000 km. The past two years have been very difficult for travelling due to COVID-19 restrictions. The camping sites either closed or the COVID-19 rules were very restrictive and differed from site to site. Travelling in 2020 and 2021 was really difficult and risky. Luckily, the situation changed in 2022 and due to vaccinations, declining COVID-19 pandemic situation and reopening of the tourism and travelling sectors in Germany, it was possible to travel again.

I took the chance and organized a little bike tour during my vacation. My original plan was something like this: travel by bike and tent for 6 days from Hanau to Braunschweig, Germany. It was coupled with a visit to my relatives in Hanau – a mid-sized town near Frankfurt am Main in the state of Hesse. The daily tour distance should be something like 60-80 km and the total distance from Hanau to Braunschweig should be approx. 400 km. Planning the route by OpenCycleMap.org was pretty easy but I missed two important factors: the terrain and total weight of me and my bike. While the terrain in Lower Saxony is mostly flat and very easy to manage – this isn’t the case in the hills of Hesse, especially when one has a 40 kg packed travelling bike and approx. 120 kg of muscles fat riding the bike. So yeah… I kinda underestimated the effort which was punished later 😉

However, I was preparing this tour for about a week. Riding approx. 30 km per day helped to build condition and to get used to sitting on a bike for 2+ hours.

Day 1: Hanau – Gelnhausen – Schlüchtern

The tour started on the hottest days of the month. This wasn’t planned at all. The temperatures were around 37-39 °C and there was not even one cloud from early morning until sunset. This was definitely not my cycling weather. Cycling the first 40 km was easy until the heat drained my powers. The last 20 km were exhausting but I managed to reach Schlüchtern. My first camping site was about 3 km outside of Schlüchtern – “piece of cake” I thought. The camping site was on a hill of approx 250 m height. My mistake was using the Google Maps guide. The suggested route was closed and I spent 2 hours in the woods and hills pushing my 40 kg bike at 12% upward slopes. I finally managed to reach the camping site Hutten-Heiligenborn at 8 pm and was wrecked. The camping site was very nice and I was welcomed by the site manager. Tent, shower, dinner, sleep, RIP.

Day 2: Schlüchtern – Fulda – Schlitz

The cycle route downhill was really nice! I was able to go at 40-50 km/h for about 7 km. 26 km later, I reached the city of Fulda. Fulda was very inviting due to very good cycling roads. I visited the central train station involuntarily because I got lost few times due to bad road signs. Nevertheless, the temperatures rose higher and higher up to 39 °C and my performance dropped steadily. In the village of Kämmerzell I got lost again but this was really bad. The route got me into a 7 km lasting agony of steep hills (remember? 12% upward slope at 39 °C and 160 kg of total mass?) which lasted for like 3 hours. Luckily, I was pushing my bike on forest roads where most places were in the shadows at 35ish °C but that’s it. This unintentional route killed my schedule and I was unable to reach my planned camping grounds.  My provisions have been spoiled by the hot weather and I had to resuppy it on the next day. Luckily, there was a small camping site in the city of Schlitz (where I got lost again, thanks Google Maps). Later at night, there was a thunderstorm but this was no problem for my Hilleberg Unna tent!

Day 3: Schlitz – Bad Hersfeld – Melsungen

I think this was the best cycling day I had in a long time. Due to the thunderstorm and colder weather, the temperatures dropped significantly from 39 °C to a cloudy 23 °C. This was like heaven for cycling – the heatwave was gone and the temperatures were ideal for cycling. My performance on this day was OK: my muscles and my butt didn’t hurt much and I was able to cycle 95 km total. I still wasn’t able to catch up to my schedule because I was like 40 km behind. When reaching the city of Melsungen at 7 pm, I thought I had enough power to make it the next 40 km but as soon as I saw the next camping site, I knew it was time to get some rest. Cycling at night in unknown terrain can be dangerous (you get lost very easily, bad sight during night). So I stopped on a small camping site near Melsungen and it wasn’t a bad decision at all.

Day 4: Melsungen – Kassel – Hann. Münden – Hemeln

Oh yeah, I overdid it on Day 3. The daily goal was set to 90-100 km but I managed to get only 78 km total. The weather was very good (cloudy, 25 °C) and I was progressing very well until I reached the city of Kassel. Here I got lost multiple times due to construction sites and spend like 2-3 hours cycling through Kassel. I stopped here and there to take photographs but wasn’t able to do a sightseeing tour. Kassel was very stressful because I had to take routes on busy roads for a while until I found the correct cycling route. This set me further back in my schedule. The route from Kassel to Hannoversch Münden was very nice and relaxing. I met another elder cyclist which cycled with me for about 12 km. Having company was nice because we were very fast and could talk about the usual stuff (small talk). Hann. Münden was a very nice city – this is the place where the rivers Fulda and Werra combine into the river Weser. I wish I could have stayed there longer. However, I left Hann. Münden at 2:30 pm and at about 3:30 pm, my performance started to decline due to muscle and rear pain. I didn’t want to ignore the pain signs and I visited a camping site in a village called Hemeln. Good decision (as usual). I needed some rest and as soon as my tent was up, I went inside and slept for like 2 hours. Then shower, dinner, sleep 8h.

Day 5: Hemeln – Höxter – Holzminden – Stadtoldendorf – Braunschweig (by train)

Unfortunately the final cycling day. I got up very early in the morning and left the camping site at about 8 am. All the muscle pain was gone and I was able to cycle at a fast pace again. The weather wasn’t very bad and this got me excited because I felt like I could do 100+ km on this day. My goal was Seesen, a small town near the Harz mountains. The distance was calculated at about 140 km. Since 100 km are no problem, an extra 40 km should be possible, too. Wrong! The first 60 km weren’t bad at all. My speed was OK but the temperatures started to rise again. By noon, the temperature was at 28-30 °C and my rear started to hurt every few kilometers. So I had to push the bike for a while until the pain went away but this set me back in my schedule. After visiting few cities such as Bad Karlshafen, Höxter and Holzminden, I left the Weser cycling route and set the route towards east (R1). At 80 km distance, I was really exhausted and had to take breaks every few kilometers. I reached a place called Stadtoldendorf at 4 pm and still had to cycle 50 km to Seesen. At 13 km/h, this would have taken 4 hours at least. I resupplied my water and food in Stadtoldendorf and I got lost again due to a major construction site. Unfortunately, Google Maps calculated a wrong route directing me into steep hills and I gave up.

I re-routed Google Maps to the next train station and started the adventure back home to Braunschweig by train. Luckily, I was able to travel with my 9-EUR-Ticket and the trains were not full at the time. After spending 3 hours in regional trains, I was able to reach home safely. My daily distance was 110.95 km, my new personal record (my highest was at 110.68 km in the year 2019). I must admit, I had to use Ibuprofen due to muscle pain.

Summary

It was a very interesting and adventurous cycling tour 2022 (as usual). I’ve seen many wonderful landscapes and places, cycled about 425 km total. The weather was good and bad and I got lost many times (as always). I learned a bit about planning routes and learned a lot about my cycling performance. Using petroleum jelly for skin lubrication was a winner. I packed the wrong stuff which I never used on tour (gas stove, blanket, accessories, food) but which added to the total weight. My provisions got spoiled by the hot weather so this is an important issue to consider for future routes. I hope to reduce my body weight by winter so I’ll be able to do another cycling tour at the North Sea. I’ve done this before and it was one of the best cycling tours I had so far.

I would recommend everyone to participate in such cycling tours. If you’re not a cyclist, go hiking instead! It’s a challenge to travel alone over the course of many days. For me it’s important to realize that travelling from A to B takes time and effort. Sure, one can drive into holidays or fly by airplane with little to none effort. This behavior has two negative effects: people just don’t realize how hard it is to move things from A to B and we take many modern things for granted. Cars and airplanes may be the foundation stone of our modern civilization but our civilization will have to change significantly in the next few decades or we’ll have really difficult times here on earth (climate *cough* change).

 

Tektronix TDS 754D, Four Channel Digital Phosphor Oscilloscope

Introduction

Over the past two years, I have acquired a decent amount of Tektronix analog oscilloscopes. I would say “decent amount” because having 10+ oscilloscopes is not that much compared to other Tektronix enthusiasts. Nevertheless, my colleagues already started questioning my sanity. Different topic. I really like Tek analog oscilloscopes and I love to work with them. However, doing everyday measurements in analog has its downsides in terms of comfort and workflows. It was about time to go digital!

Analog vs Digital

Do you want to do a “quick” measurement and document it? Sure: turn on the oscilloscope, set the ranges/triggering and observe the electron beam trace! Experienced users can set up the measurement in seconds to less than a minute. However, when it comes down to taking quantitative measurements, this process may take a while. If the values of the amplitude, phase or frequency of a signal are not of importance, e. g. one does qualitative measurements where just the shape of the signal is of interest (sinewave, squarewave, noise), the measurement can be done in a matter of seconds. However, if quantitative measurements are of importance (amplitude, phase, frequency, risetime), the average user will spend a lot of time counting the marks on the graticule which can be prone to errors, too.

In order to document the measurements, one has to take photographs of the screen. Unfortunately, some analog oscilloscopes have no measurement annotations on the screen. The user has to take care of this – it can be a huge trap for young players. I’ve been there before and it wasn’t easy figuring out why I have 13 pictures of oscillograph curves but only 10-ish lab notes documenting the oscilloscope settings… Which setting did I use for Channel 1 and Channel 2? Why are the images blurry? How about those annoying reflections on the screen? Another downside of an analog oscilloscope would be of a “first-world-problem” type: at very low frequencies (in the range of few Hz), it’s very difficult to view a complete image of a single waveform. The electron beam  sweeps too slowly across the screen – it doesn’t leave a persistent trace which makes reliable measurements difficult. However, it is possible to view single waveforms with an analog storage oscilloscope.

Fast-forward to the 1990’s to 2020’s – the era of digital oscilloscopes. The early digital models were slow and limited in their measurement capabilities. The advances in technology (improved analog-to-digital converters, more RAM and storage, digital signal processing, automation) helped digital oscilloscopes to become very powerful instruments. As the name suggests, a digital oscilloscope converts an analog signal into a digital one. Once the time-dependent (analog) voltage has been converted into basically numbers, one can play with waveforms and do useful calculations. It’s very easy to calculate values such as min/max/average or standard deviation. Implementation of sophisticated signal processing algorithms opened the doors to Fast Fourier Transform (FFT), logic analysis, complex triggering and much much more. Digital oscilloscopes also have one huge advantage over their analog counterparts: one can capture and store a single waveform for viewing (e. g. zoom in in order to see more details). Tektronix released a very nice publication on this matter, The XYZs of Oscilloscopes Primer. It can be downloaded for free from Tek’s website.

Purchase Criteria for a Digital Oscilloscope

In my case, I just needed a general-purpose digital oscilloscope in order to make quick measurements and do the documentation stuff.

Now what to look for? The key specifications would be: number of channels, analog bandwidth, sampling rate, memory and vertical resolution. Modern-day oscilloscopes have all kinds of additional features such as interfaces (USB, RS-232, Ethernet, GPIB), touchscreen display, integrated digital multimeters, VGA/HDMI/DisplayPort, input termination (1 MΩ/50 Ω) and much more. Those features can improve your workflow and speed up your work. I should mention that the size of the oscilloscope can be important, too. Digital oscilloscopes can be very compact and take almost no space on the bench compared to their analog counterparts. This is important for people with space constraints like a student’s living room or a small garage. There is one more parameter which sums up the features: the price 🙁

I’ve scrambled few hundred Euros in order to buy myself a 2nd hand digital oscilloscope. Since 2010’s/2020’s oscilloscopes are a little bit too expensive, I’ve looked into the mid 1990’s to mid 2000’s era digital oscilloscopes. By the end of 1990’s, digital oscilloscopes had quite potent measurement capabilities. Tektronix and Agilent Technologies (successor to Hewlett-Packard, now Keysight Technologies) designed excellent oscilloscopes for all kinds of applications – mobile communications, digital design and debugging, video and others. Other brands to consider would be Fluke/Philips, Hameg (today Rohde & Schwarz) or LeCroy. Fast-forward 25 years into the future and a 1990’s 20k USD high-end oscilloscope can be bought today in the order of just few hundreds Euros. I guess the only reason I’m stuck with Tektronix oscilloscopes in general is their excellent documentation (User and Service Manuals) and the ability to repair it according to the documentation. Huge props to Kurt of TekWiki and also to all the TekWiki contributors and enthusiasts which maintain the wiki pages and manuals archives. Another invaluable source of Tektronix-related information is the mailing list TekScopes@Groups.io.

Speaking of few hundreds of Euros: the price range below 1k EUR is in direct competition with modern-day digital oscilloscopes! I certainly had considered whether to spend let’s say 500 EUR on a new Rigol oscilloscope (which can be hacked/upgraded to a multi thousand dollar machine) or  on a 25 year old vintage chobby which has possibly seen darkness, torture, abuse and failures. I’ve been hesitating buying different brands such as PeakTech, Rigol, Siglent or UNI-T for different reasons. Don’t get me wrong – they manufacture great and affordable oscilloscopes. The devil is in the details.

Tektronix TDS 754D Series Oscilloscope

The Tektronix TDS Series seemed to fit very well in my scope scheme. I was looking for a decent amount of analog bandwidth (at least 400 MHz), a high sampling rate (if possible 5x to 10x the analog bandwidth) and 4 channels. Tektronix TDS 784D came in my mind because it had everything I needed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available at the time on German markets like eBay or eBay-Kleinanzeigen (German analogy to craigslist). So I was looking for a suitable alternative. The EEVBlog community has quite a few threads on TDS Series oscilloscopes. One in particular was interesting: the models TDS 754D and 784D are electronically nearly identical. It is possible to convert a TDS 754D model (500 MHz bandwidth) into a TDS 784D (1 GHz bandwidth) by means of a small modification. This modification (removing a resistor and few capacitors) is well documented and can be done very easily. Since there were few Tek TDS 754D oscilloscopes on the market, I thought to give it a try.

First Impression

Tektronix TDS 754D is a compact unit when compared to my 7000 Series “boat anchors”. It has a very clean designed front panel, color display and vents for a large fan (approx 15 cm diameter) on the left hand side. The noise generated by the fan is a little bit annoying but tolerable. Since the heat generated by the oscilloscope has to be carried away, it’s crucial to maintain a proper airflow. There are many ventilation slots on the housing which need some clearance, otherwise the oscilloscope may be damaged due to overheating. Booting up the device takes about a minute and the warm-up time is at least 15 minutes. The color display is a little bit strange: while moving my head, the display colors are splitted into their red/green/blue components (color fringing). This is a little bit annoying but on the other hand, the image quality (in resting position) is very good – sharp image, rich colors, “dark theme” which is pleasing for my eyes when working in dim or darker environments. The oscilloscope takes quite a lot of space on the workbench. Placing the oscilloscope outside of ergonomic positions is not recommended because one has to push many buttons and turn the knobs in order to find optimal settings.

Quick Check of the Four Channels

The pictures provided by the seller showed a deviation on Channel #2 which was a little bit worrying. He attached the probe and got no signal displayed. The root of cause could have been anything ranging from a defective channel to false user setting. Luckily, it turned out to be a false setting by him. All four channels were tested with a function generator in 50 Ω and 1 MΩ (“High Z”) terminations. The amplitude was set to 1 Vpp at various frequencies – The sine waveforms were clean without any visible noise or distortion. I was able to test the analog bandwidth with my Leo Bodnar Fast Pulse Generator. It generates a 10 MHz squarewave with a very steep rising edge. When measuring the 10% to 90% rise time, one can determine the oscilloscope bandwidth as shown in my previous blog entry. The rise time of channel 1 through 4 with a 50 Ω termination was in the order of 680 ps which corresponds to a -3 dB bandwidth of 514 MHz.

Menus and Settings

The menus and settings are easily accessible through push buttons and knobs. The response is good, the menus and sub-menus are arranged in a logical order. Some settings are a little bit hidden, e. g. the switch between XY and YT display modes and waveform average settings. Nevertheless, with a little bit of practice, one will memorize the location of the settings automagically. The numerical keyboard is very convenient as soon as exact setting values are needed (e. g. if you want to set the trigger level to an arbitrary value, you don’t have to turn the knob and fine-tune).

Tektronix WaveStar and Remote Control via GPIB

I must admit, this one blew my mind. I was concerned how to transfer screenshots and images from the oscilloscope to my PC. I have bunch of 3.5″ diskettes lying somewhere around and an “old PC” (IBM ThinkCentre from the early 2000’s) which could be used for data transfer. However, transferring the data from oscilloscope to an ancient PC and from there to the local network would have been a workflow horror. According to the oscilloscope manuals, the data transfer was possible either via serial interface (RS-232) or the general-purpose interface bus (GPIB). Older oscilloscopes with GPIB interface (e. g. the Tek 2465B) can be controlled remotely but the user is unable to readout the measurements. TDS Series oscilloscopes do have this capability! It’s possible to control the oscilloscope remotely and fetch the waveform data in a human-readable ASCII format. The communication with the oscilloscope can be established either via RS-232 or GPIB. The setup is straight-forward in case of GPIB: set up a GPIB address on the device, connect the oscilloscope via a GPIB controller to the PC, install VISA drivers and it should work. Once everything is installed, the communication with the oscilloscope can be checked by sending the *IDN? command.

Installing Tektronix WaveStar and Setting Up the Oscilloscope Communication

The Tektronix WaveStar Software manages the communication between the remote controllable oscilloscope and the PC. Unfortunately, the software isn’t maintained or supported by Tektronix anymore. I’m not sure if WaveStar can be obtained from the Tek website directly – however, there is a downloadable ZIP file on TekWiki. The product key for this application is available on the internet (e. g. Tektronix user forum). I have successfully installed WaveStar on my Windows 10 (version 21H2) PC. Windows 7 or Windows XP should work, too. I’ve set up an image gallery with screenshots from the installation.

Tektronix WaveStar GUI

Using the Graphical User Interface or GUI wasn’t very intuitive after starting it. WaveStar has a Explorer View which allows access to the oscilloscope functions, such as settings, measurements, cursors etc. In order to transfer data from the oscilloscope to the PC, one has to generate a new datasheet. The selection of datasheets leads to different types of measurements. The YTSheet for example is able to plot the voltage vs. time. In order to create a “screenshot”, one has to create a new datasheet “NotesSheet” and drag-and-drop the “Screen Copy” from the Explorer View Local > TekTDS454D > Data > Display > Screen Copy (Color) into the newly created NotesSheet. After downloading the Screen Copy into the NotesSheet, it is possible to copy & paste it into different applications, such as LibreOffice Writer or MS Paint. The resolution of the image is 640 x 480 px and good enough for quick documentation purposes.

Downloading the measurement into WaveStar YTSheet
Arrangement of different measurements: WaveformMeasurement, DatalogMeasurement, NotesSheet and YTSheet

Further Data Processing

After playing few hours with WaveStar, I figured out how to extract measurement data in different ways: as vector graphics and as comma separated values or CSV. Vector graphics are very nice when it comes to publication quality images. It is possible to print out the YTScreen as a PDF file (Windows 10 offers a PDF printer driver natively, otherwise you’ll have to install one manually). The informations inside of the PDF are vector graphics which can be imported into a suitable program such as InkScape (another well-known programs would be Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator). InkScape is an open source vector graphics editor which allows to manipulate vector graphics. Vector graphics are basically numbers which contain x,y-coordinates for lines to be drawn. Bitmap graphics on the other hand are color and brightness informations stored in a matrix. Whenever scaling bitmap images, one has to deal with (ugly) scaling artefacts where vector graphics can be scaled (or zoomed in) indefinetely.

After printing out the YTSheet as a PDF file, I imported the PDF into InkScape. It is possible to manipulate the vector images as one wishes!

Last but not least, I was able to export the WaveformTabular data into a CSV file. A CSV file can be loaded into a spreadsheet application such as LibreOffice Calc or Microsoft Excel. The waveform data can be processed afterwards – doing statistics or digital signal processing (e. g. with Python) can be done very easily!

Exporting waveform data into a CSV and plotting it in LibreOffice Calc.

Conclusion

Well, I’ve got myself a very powerful digital oscilloscope now. I still haven’t tested the full capabilities of this instrument but I’m very satisfied with its performance at this point and can recommend it to anyone seeking a 20-30 year old instrument. Although I paid far too much for it (it was well over 500 EUR), it was worth it. I’ll test its measurement capabilities during my vacation which is starting next week 😉

My “9 Euro ticket” Travelling Experience

Introduction

Since June 1st 2022 it is possible to travel within the whole country of Germany by public transportation system with a flat-rate ticket which costs only 9 Euros per month. The ticket is time-limited and valid only during the current month. It applies only to the German public transportation system (e. g. trains of German Railways such as DB RegionalBahn, RegionalExpress, S-Bahn, also metropolitan transportation  systems such as U-Bahn, busses & trams). The ticket doesn’t apply to inter-regional trains such as ICE, IC or EC and doesn’t cover 1st class travelling in any of the mentioned transportation systems.

It was proposed by the German Government as a time-limited experiment in order to motivate people to drive less cars and as a financial relief due to very high energy and gasoline prices. The 9 Euro ticket will be obtainable during months June, July and August in 2022. The financial losses to the transportation companies due to this very cheap ticket will be compensated by the taxpayers. I think this is a good idea although its execution wasn’t very well planned. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction! The German public transportation system is “OK” but isn’t able to handle – let’s say – sudden passenger increases of 20% or more very easily.

My Trip from Braunschweig to Meschede

I’ve bought myself a 9 Euro ticket and went on a trip from Braunschweig to a small city called Meschede. I’ve been living and working in Meschede for about 1.5 years before moving to Braunschweig. Although its location is in mid-western Germany and it’s only 260ish kilometers distant, it is a remote location because it’s surrounded by forests and hills of the Sauerland region. There is no easy way to get inside or outside of Sauerland 😉 My trip planner calculated a total travel time of about 5 hours and 21 minutes with approx. 1 hour of exchange durations. Travelling from Braunschweig to Meschede and back by train will be at least a 10 hr and 42 minute trip (which was the case).

I’ve started from my apartment at roughly 6:30 in the morning and took the bus to the central station. My first train went from Braunschweig to Bielefeld, a ~2hr trip. The two floor train was very clean and there was enough room for passengers and bicycle users. Changing train in Bielefeld offered a different image. The train was heading in direction to Dortmund. It was pretty full with passengers and commuters but I was able to get a seat in the bike wagon. People standing around me were 10 drunk ladies (bachelor party) which were very funny and entertaining. In Dortmund, the train filled up to its maximum capacity where I felt sorry for the passengers. They were stuffed like canned tuna. I’ve spent about 20 minutes on the Dortmund central station gathering some fresh air. Nothing special: cops everywhere, fewer-than-usual soccer fans, LGBTQ pride flag carriers, occasionally religious fanatics and beggars. It’s a wild place but somehow appealing. The last section of the route was from Dortmund to Meschede. The train was OK – clean, not too full, a little bit loud due to its diesel engines. I found a seat near a group of drunk guys which were also very funny and entertaining. At one of the train stations, another drunk guy joined and collected refundable bottles. This was so unreal, he looked like a 70 year old smashed alcoholic, barely able to walk but the drunk party donated like 10-12 empty bottles of beer instantly to him 😀

To my surprise, all trains were on time and there were no major delays. I arrived in Meschede at 12:40 so the total travelling time starting from my apartment was approx. 6 hr 10 min. I couldn’t stay for a long time in Meschede because of the 6h return trip so I planned to stay for about 4.5 hours. This is one thing to consider when using 9 Euro ticket: the travel duration killed most of the day and reduced the visit duration significantly.

However, I was able to visit my old workplace and say hello to my former colleagues and some old friends. The Open-Door Day at University of Applied Sciences in Meschede offered a rich program of science, engineering, entertainment and food. The weather was excellent and very inviting.

 

The return journey was very tiring: the train from Dortmund to Bielefeld was 15 minutes late and full to the max. We were standing for about 30 minutes without any room to move until a portion of passengers left the train. Luckily due to long exchange duration, the meanwhile 20 minute delay didn’t affect the connecting train from Bielefeld to Braunschweig. The section from Bielefeld to Braunschweig was OK – no problems whatsoever. About 90% of people inside of trains were wearing a face mask due to COVID-19 pandemic which was very nice. The current infections are very low in the region of 350 per 100 000 inhabitants but one has to be careful anyways. There may be a new infection wave in the autumn this year…

Summary and conclusion

Dortmund central train station – definitely an interesting place to be! 😉

I’ve spent most of my day travelling in trains. It was cheap but also do-able. I was able to travel from Braunschweig to Meschede and back in one day for 9 Euros! This trip would have cost at least 50 Euros instead without much improvement in travel quality. I’ve been to Meschede few weeks before this trip by car and the gasoline alone cost me 80 Euros.  The quality of trains (size, cleanliness) and its connection vary significantly from region to region. One has to consider that trains will be full during commuting hours and empty outside of them. During weekends, bicyclists take up a lot of space in the trains so this can be an issue, too. The people are usually friendly and very helpful but there are also exceptions: drunk and loud people, some of them smell badly due to sweat or even urine. The toilets are in an acceptable condition but don’t rely on this – try to take Number One/Number Two at a train station instead inside of a train toilet.

The 9 Euro ticket is definitely worth it and should be used to visit all kinds of places in Germany. There are wonderful towns and regions which should be visited during the summer time. I haven’t been to cities such as Rostock, Schwerin, Konstanz, Kiel, Flensburg, Saarbrücken and many others so I’ll try to catch up with my visits.

Controlling Test Equipment via GPIB and Python

Introduction

Taking measurements with electronic equipment doesn’t require much skill and effort: turn the device on, set up the measurement parameters such as input channel/range/sensitivity, trigger the measurement and read the numbers on the screen (if there are any). The same procedure can be applied in everyday situations – whether you have to read the time from a clock or check the temperature in your fridge/oven.

But what if one does have to take thousands or even million of measurements  every day? What happens if measurements have to be performed 24/7? There surely are applications where it is necessary  to take measurements manually but putting a human behind a bench and performing boring and repetitive measurements during a 8-hour-workday is prone to exhaustion and errors. This is where automated test equipment (ATE) kicks in. It is possible to let a computer do the “boring stuff” while the human operator may spend his or her precious time on solving problems instead of doing repetitive work. I’ve successfully stolen borrowed and tested foreign Python code and want to demonstrate how to control a digital multimeter and a function generator via General-Purpose Interface Bus (GPIB) and Python’s pyvisa module.

GPIB

GPIB is a 8-bit parallel interface bus which has been invented in the late 1960’s by Hewlett-Packard (see Wikipedia article). Prior to its standardization in the late 1970’s as IEEE 488, it was known as HP-IB (Hewlett-Packard Interface Bus). It allows interconnection between instruments and controllers. It is system independent of device functions. This de facto standard has been around for a while and is well established in the Test & Measurement industry. Fast forward to the year 2022, GPIB is still present in test equipment although in recent two decades, communication with instruments have been enabled with modern-day interfaces such as USB or Ethernet. GPIB allows a very diverse topology – one can connect all instruments either in a Daisy Chain or parallel configuration or even in a combination of both of them. There are certain GPIB-specific limitations concerning cable lengths, maximum number of connected devices, data transfer speeds and others which have to be considered when automating test equipment.

Experimental Setup

Schematic of my test test setup. The HP 3325B function generator provides a sinusoidal voltage for the HP 34401A digital multimeter in order to measure a well-known test signal. Both instruments are connected via GPIB to a GPIB/Ethernet controller.

I’ve connected a HP 34401A digital multimeter to a HP 3325B function generator in order to generate a sinusoidal test signal, which can be represented by an equation \(v(t) = v_0 \cdot \sin (\omega t) \) with \(\omega = 2\pi f\). Both instruments are connected to a GPIB controller National Instruments GPIB-ENET/100. The GPIB-ENET controller acts as a bridge  and allows communication to GPIB devices via ethernet, which is highly convenient in my lab. It allows me to control the instruments via LAN from any of my computers. This device requires drivers from National Instruments so I’ve chosen NI MAX v17.5 along with NI-488.2 driver in order to be able to use the legacy GIPB-ENET/100 controller. I’m using Windows 10 along with the WinPython distribution. WinPython comes along with Python 3.9.10 and hundreds of useful modules, such as numpy, pandas, matplotlib etc. (which are optional). The pyvisa module needs to be installed manually via pip, see PyVISA’s project website for further installation instructions.

National Instruments GPIB-ENET/100. This unit is legacy and is not supported by current NI drivers anymore. The last known driver version which supports this unit is v17.5. The GPIB-ENET/1000 (1 Gbit/s version) is currently supported by National Instruments.

Important notice for new users

Many of the GPIB-USB adapters sold on eBay are fakes or counterfeits. They are sold very cheap (different brands such as National Instruments, Agilent/Keysight, Keithley) in the price range of 100 EUR to 120 EUR per piece whereas the genuine GPIB-USB adapters often cost more than 400 EUR. Buying a new unit directly from the manufacturer will cost in the order of 900 -1200EUR which is kinda crazy! Nevertheless, some of the fake GPIB-USB adapters seem to work pretty well and are recognized by the official drivers. However, some EEVBlog users also report having problems with fake adapters… So it’s really a gamble.

I’ve bought a 2nd hand “fake” GBIB-USB-HS for cheap which didn’t work for the previous owner but works perfectly on my Windows 10 machine. I haven’t tested it with Raspberry PI yet which will be done in a future project. The GPIB-ENET/100 unit is a little bit pricy (~200ish EUR) but the most affordable interface cards are the PCI-GPIB types. I’ve seen genuine units being sold on eBay for 40-80 EUR. No need to spend hundreds of Euros for a GPIB interface. Microcontroller-based GPIB-USB projects also exist where one can assemble a GPIB-USB or GPIB-LAN controller for cheap (which may not work always but gets the job done). Proper GPIB-cables can be expensive, too, but I’ve seen them being sold for approx. 7 … 12 EUR per piece occasionally. Custom-made GPIB cables out of ribbon cable and Centronics/Amphenol connectors may also work and get the job done.

NI GPIB-USB-HS adapter. Unfortunately, this unit is a fake (counterfeit). Despite being a fake, it works on my PC.

Example Code

First of all we’re gonna need to import some Python modules. pyvisa is mandatory, other modules will be useful.

# Import Python modules
import pyvisa
import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import datetime
import time

Next step: we need to open the pyvisa Resource Manager. We need to know the GPIB addresses of our instruments. For example, I’ve assigned GPIB address No. 4 to my digital multimeter dmm and the frequency generator fgen has the GPIB address No. 18. GPIB 22 is another digital multimeter which isn’t used in this example.

# Open pyvisa Resource Manager, print out a list with active devices
rm = pyvisa.ResourceManager()
print(rm.list_resources())

The print(rm.list_resources()) statement gives us the GPIB addresses of the connected devices, such as: ('ASRL3::INSTR', 'GPIB0::4::INSTR', 'GPIB0::18::INSTR', 'GPIB0::22::INSTR').  Now we can open a connection to the resources.

# Assign GPIB address 4 to dmm and open resource
dmm = rm.open_resource('GPIB0::4::INSTR')
dmm.read_termination = '\n'
dmm.write_termination = '\n'

# Assign GPIB address 18 to fgen and open resource
fgen = rm.open_resource('GPIB0::18::INSTR')
fgen.read_termination = '\n'
fgen.write_termination = '\n'

The dmm and fgen objects have been created. The statements dmm.read_termination = '\n' deal with line feed and carriage returns. The next step will set the DMM settings and call an identify string via a SCPI command *IDN?

# Set the DMM for measurements
print(dmm.query('*IDN?'))                      # Identify string
print(dmm.write('CONF:VOLT:DC 10,0.001'))      # Set DC voltage range and 4.5 digits of resolution

The same commands are applied to our frequency generator. The output of the DMM looks something like (name, model, firmware version):
HEWLETT-PACKARD,34401A,0,4-1-1
22

# Set the FGEN for measurements according to the manual
print(fgen.query('*IDN?'))             # Identify string
print(fgen.write('AM 2.0 VO'))         # Set amplitude to 2 V_pp
print(fgen.write('FR 0.1 HZ'))         # Set frequency to 0.1 Hz

The parameters such as measurement range, frequency and amplitude have been set. Now let’s take a single measurement. This is done via query command. A query is a short representation of dmm.write() and dmm.read() commands. The READ? command fetches the current measurement value from the digital multimeter.

# Example 1: Take a single measurement
print('Measured value: {} Volts.'.format(dmm.query('READ?')))

Measured value: -9.97000000E-02 Volts.

We have measured the voltage! Yaay! Its value is -99.7 mV, written in the engineering notation. Our next code example will be used to take 2048 measurements and timestamp them. I’ve used the pandas DataFrame as a convenient structure to store the data. This could have been done with numpy arrays for sure! OK, after setting the Number of acquired samples to N = 2048, I’ve created an empty pandas DataFrame. It will be filled with our precious data. The next line (6.) prints out the date and time. The t0 variable in line (7.) is used to get the timestamp value at the beginning of the measurement. This value will be subtracted from the timestamps generated by time.time().

The for loop starts at the value 0 and calls two commands according to line (9.). It writes a timestamp and measured value into the DataFrame df at index 0. After execution of line (9.), the for loop is repeated N-1 = 2047 times. As soon as the for loop finishes, we need to convert the string-datatype voltages into floating point numbers, otherwise Python will have difficulties handling  them with further calculations.

# Example 2: Take N numbers of measurements
N = 2048                               # Number of samples to acquire
df = pd.DataFrame(columns=['t', 'V'])  # Create an empty pandas DataFrame

# Print date and time, write data into the DataFrame
print(datetime.datetime.now().strftime('%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S.%f'))
t0 = time.time()
for i in range(N):
    df.loc[i] = [time.time()-t0, dmm.query('READ?')]

# Convert dmm readout strings to a float number
df.V = df.V.astype(float)

That’s it! We’ve acquired 2048 measurements. Just imagine sitting there and typing all these numbers in Excel! Such a waste of time 😉 The next line of code extracts the total measurement time from the DataFrame timestamps. The measurement took approx. 25.8 seconds to complete. This corresponds to approx 79.2 samples per second at 4.5 digits of precision.

# Show elapsed time in seconds
df.iloc[N-1].t

25.846375942230225

# Calculate the sampling rate in Samples per Second
str(np.round((len(df)-1)/df.iloc[N-1].t, 3))

'79.199'

The last step of this example will be to plot the results into a graph figure. First we create an empty figure called fig with sizes 11.6 x 8.2 inches at 300 dpi resolution. The plt.plot() command needs the \(x\)– and \(y\)– values (or time and voltage values) as function arguments in order to plot a nice diagram. We label the axes, set a title and grid. The figure is then saved as PNG file and displayed. See picture below!

# Plot the results, annotate the graph, show figure and export as PNG file
fig = plt.figure(figsize = (11.6, 8.2), dpi=300, facecolor='w', edgecolor='k')
plt.plot(df.t, df.V, 'k.')
plt.xlabel('Time (s)')
plt.ylabel('Voltage (V)')
plt.title('HP 34401A measurement (Range: 10 V (DC), Resolution: \n 4.5 digits @ ' + str(np.round((len(df)-1)/df.iloc[N-1].t, 3)) + ' Sa/s, $f$ = 0.1 Hz, $v_0$ = 2 V$_{pp}$)')
plt.grid(True)
plt.savefig('Measurement_result.png')
plt.show()
Measurement result after data acquisition of 2048 samples.

Now we could do some statistics or fit a sine function to it. I’ll explain this in a future blog post. A small bonus can be achieved via the following command:

dmm.write('DISP:TEXT "73 DE DH7DN"')
HP 34401A with a custom text message, sent to the device via GPIB.

Salvaging, desoldering practice

I’m still in the process of building my electronics lab. After two years of acquiring test equipment, it will still take some time to get it to a satisfactory level. The measurement capabilities have been extended to electrical quantities such as voltage, current, resistance, impedance, capacitance, inductance and frequency. Unfortunately, I’m reluctant to buy new general-purpose parts like BNC connectors or electrolyte capacitors. Luckily I was able to find some useful components in the dumpster, which is currently my main source of electronics components. The components are still useful and of value. Those were doomed of being thrown away.

I have few days off right now and some spare time to desolder and sort the components. They will be very useful for future my projects! It’s been a while since I’ve been (de)soldering and this takes forever. It’s hard to forget how to solder but if one doesn’t practice, it takes some time to get the muscle memory back.

Everything one needs for desoldering action: JBC CD-2SE soldering station, Keysight U1733C LCR Meter, soldering pump and some pincers and pliers.
Few of the desoldered components which have been saved from the dumpster/landslide.
More work: There is certainly something meditative about desoldering and sorting electronic parts… 😉

More Tektronix Oscilloscopes in 2022

About 2 weeks ago I traveled through the country in order to pick up – as one may guess – another Tektronix oscilloscope! Who would have thought? This unit was very special: a Tek 7904A with many high-speed plugins such as 7A19, 7A24, 7B92A… just to name a few.

The seller was very kind and showed me more stuff laying around in the basement. There were some vintage instruments on a dusty shelf but the Tektronix R556 dual-beam oscilloscopes really caught my eye. We discussed about the future of some of the test equipment and we agreed to “dispose” it the “proper” way: load it in my car and drive it to a place where it will be treated with love and respect… my apartment! 😉

20220515_153643.jpg
Those are beefy and heavy… boat anchors… err oscilloscopes 😉

I’m a TEA with somewhat heavy GAS, that’s for sure. But I have never possessed anything like a Tektronix 556 dual beam oscilloscope. Two of them. It was very difficult to carry them around because of its mass of approx. 30 kg per unit. 

20220527_141549.jpg

Nevertheless, the units made it to my home without problem. Initial visual inspection showed a somewhat pristine condition! Besides dust, all vacuum tubes were present and all knobs/plugins/parts were without any visible damage.

20220527_141110.jpg
Side view of Tektronix R556 Dual-Beam oscilloscope. Amazing piece of late 1960’s/early 1970’s technology!

I was lucky to get two fitting bezels from Matt@Wellenkino and a proper AC power cord from eBay (type NEMA 5-15R). I’ll have to wait with power-up until order has been restored in my apartment. 😉

IMG-20220516-WA0012.jpeg
The back side of the Tek R556 oscilloscope. It has a standard NEMA 5-15 AC power plug.
20220527_141359.jpg
Receptacle of a NEMA 5-15R cable.
20220527_141516.jpg
Waiting for power-up! I’ll have to check the unit first and replace old and leaky electrolytic capacitors before powering this unit up.

 

Night Mode Image Quality = meh

I shot some oscilloscope images yesterday with my smartphone and I was really wondering about the bad image quality of the 10 MHz sine wave. Today I tried to repeat the experiment and unfortunately I got the same results. As it seems, the bad image quality is the result of using the “Night Mode” and simultaneous digital zoom-in. The image shot took 5-8 seconds in a motion stabilized environment. However, the heavy compression artifacts are still there.

Night Mode, zoomed out.

Night Mode, zoomed in. Crappy image…

After tinkering around with the camera app, I discovered the “Pro” Mode where the user is in control of camera parameters such as ISO, focus, camera lens and exposure time. The results are much better – sharper image and no compression artifacts. The phone is a Samsung Galaxy S22 with Android 11 operating system.

“Pro Mode”. Selected Tele-Lens, ISO-200 and 4 s exposure time.

The results are comparable to my Nikon D7200. Unfortunately, the workflow from shooting photographs to transferring to the PC is a horror. I’m currently trying to figure out how to shoot quick photographs, process them and upload them as quickly as possible.

Quick Test

Just writing some text and uploading a picture for testing purposes 😉

10 MHz sine wave. Nothing special.

Unfortunately the quality of this picture isn’t good.

Maybe this is better?

…aaaand hitting that PUBLISH button! Yay!

Leo Bodnar Fast Risetime Pulse Generator

A new and useful addition to the lab is a (30 ± 2) ps Fast Risetime Pulse Generator from Leo Bodnar Electronics. A pulse generator is needed to test oscilloscopes for their analog frequency bandwidth and risetime. Other applications for pulse generators would be for example time domain reflectometry (TDR) or high-speed broadband measurements (radar, semiconductors). The function description and details of the Leo Bodnar Pulse Generator are very well explained in a YouTube video by Shahriar from TheSignalPath.

So, having all the informations I need, I made some photo(n)graphs and did a quick measurement on my Tektronix 2465B analog oscilloscope. Its specified bandwidth should be 400 MHz. By measuring the rise time \(T_\mathrm{r}\), one may estimate the analog bandwidth \(\Delta f\) by using the following equation:

\(  \Delta f = \cfrac{0.35}{T_\mathrm{r}}.  \)

For example, if the rise time is measured in nanoseconds, the bandwidth will be stated in GHz because… physics: \( f = 1/T \).

The pulse generator is a very compact device. Its dimensions are approx. 24 mm x 24 mm. It is equipped with an USB and Trigger (SMA) connectors on the front side and a oscilloscope connector (BNC, SMA or 2.92 mm microwave) on the back side. In order to operate it, one needs a USB cable with a power supply (e. g. a PC or an USB power bank), various adapters (SMA to BNC) and a short coaxial cable in order to connect the trigger output to the oscilloscope.

DSC_0602.JPG
Leo Bodnar Fast Risetime Pulse Generator.

I ordered a SMA version of the pulse generator, however they shipped me the 2.92 mm version which is slightly more expensive (99 pounds). The shipping from UK to Germany took approx. 2 weeks and added 20% costs due to customs and shipping. Yeah, Brexit has a price tag for all of us. The 2.92 mm version has a slightly higher upper frequency specifications (40 GHz) compared to SMA (18 GHz). They provided me a calibration chart with determined rise times of approx 30 ps (rising edge) and 28 ps (falling edge).

DSC_0593.JPG
In order to connect the 2.92 mm microwave connector to an oscilloscope, one needs a proper adapter (shown on the left handed side). The adapter is not shipped and has to be bought separately.

DSC_0591.JPG
Pulse generator with SMA to BNC adapter.

I’ve added some cool stereo microscope close-up pictures in my gallery, check them out! Here for example, one can see the center pin of the 2.92 mm connector. The center pin is surrounded by air as dielectric, as opposed to PTFE (Teflon) on a standard SMA connector. The center pin is very delicate and one has to handle it very carefully in order to minimize the wear out.

20220206_008.jpg
2.92 mm microwave connector.

The pulser is powered via USB. The USB and SMA cables were not included. I powered the pulse generator via a battery/power bank. The RF output was connected into a 50 Ohm terminated Channel 1, the trigger output was connected to Channel 2. Trigger settings were set to Channel 2 rising edge.

DSC_0578.JPG
Experimental setup.

The first signal one should see is a 10 MHz square wave with approx. 1 V peak to peak (1 Vpp) amplitude. If you’re using 1 MΩ termination instead of 50 Ω, the amplitude will be 2 Vpp.

DSC_0566.JPG
Leo Bodnar pulse generator: 10 MHz square wave.

 

DSC_0569.JPG
Measurement of the 10 MHz square wave.

Next step will be the determination of the rise time of the rising edge. One has to zoom in to the maximum value (e. g. 5 ns/div) and activate the x10 magnification. This will lead to a 500 ps/div time scale.

DSC_0584.JPG
Tektronix 2465B with Leo Bodnar fast risetime pulse generator.

Taking the measurement is quite straight-forward. One has to determine the 10%-90% rise time. The lower image shows how the measurement is performed.

DSC_0582.JPG
Measurement of the rise time on a Tektronix 2465B. The baseline is placed on the 0% dotted line. Now we seek the intersections of the 10% and 90% horizontal lines with our trace. The cursors are used to pinpoint the intersections. The rise time is approximately 0.84 ns.

Now plugging in the measured value of \( T_\mathrm{r} = 0.84~\mathrm{ns} \) into the Bandwidth Equation gives us:

\( \Delta f~ \mathrm{[GHz]} = \cfrac{0.35}{0.84~\mathrm{ns}} = 0.416~\mathrm{GHz} = 416~\mathrm{MHz}. \)

A resulting bandwidth of 416 MHz for a 400 MHz analog oscilloscope is quite acceptable! This is almost my fastest analog oscilloscope. Since I’ve acquired quite a few of Tektronix 7000 series oscilloscopes over time, I will test the pulse generator on my 500 MHz units. I’ll share the results here.

73, DH7DN

Installing PCI Digitizer Cards and a Graphics Card in my old PC

I spent the past weekend primarily with chores. I ordered some nice ESD-protected boxes in order to store all of my sensitive components which are mostly used for my electronics and optics projects. The cleaning of my apartment was a full success and I’m happy with the results.

ESD boxception.
My newly ordered ESD boxes. Size: 40 cm x 30 cm x 22/30 cm.

I also spent some time upgrading my old PC for a future project. Approx. 12 years ago, I bought a second hand PC from a German reseller called ITSCO for about 450 EUR. It’s a workstation PC, type Dell Precision T5400 (2x Intel Xeon E5440 2.83 GHz, 4096 MB RAM (DDR2 667 ECC Fully Buffered, PC2 5300F), DVD-RW+ and whatnot). It was my daily workhorse until 2021. Using a PC for 11 years is quite impressive if compared to older generation PCs from the mid-1990’s until ~2006. Those old PCs were prone to obsolescence because of Moore’s Law.

Over the years, I experienced only few minor problems with the Dell workstation: I’ve lost few RAM modules (error correction code memory, ECC) due to thermal issues. The RAM modules got pretty hot (70 °C – 80 °C) during operation. If one does not take care of dust and proper ventilation during hot summers, those electronic parts will inevitably fail. Luckily, the ECC DDR-SDRAM prices for those kind of PCs fell significantly over the past years so I was able to restock my RAM module supply with many replacement modules for a minor investment of ~20ish EUR.

Unfortunately, the user experience declined over time. Upgrading to Windows 10 and Google Chrome as a web browser in 2019 was a pain in the ass. Those applications are very power-hungry, especially when it comes to RAM. An average PC with 4-8 GB RAM – while being very decent in the years ~2010…2015 – is totally crippled by modern day software. Booting a PC and loading a web browser already consumes 4-6 GB or RAM! So I moved on and acquired another workstation (hp Z440) as an intermediate solution because of the ongoing global shortage of electronic components.

Nevertheless, my Dell workstation is still of great value! Due to its age, the motherboards from the 2006-2009 era were produced with PCI and PCI Express (x16). Modern day PCs and motherboards are produced with PCI Express slots exclusively although there are PCIe-to-PCI bridge solutions out there. While PCI slots are becoming more and more obsolete, there is still valuable hardware out there which is based on this kind of technology: PCI-based oscilloscopes. I bought over the past years such PCI oscilloscope cards which in return can be used as high-speed digitizers. A digitizer is a piece of test equipment which converts analogue signals (e. g. voltages) into digital ones. The digitized values are called samples. Digitized signals have one huge advantage: since the samples are basically just numbers, they can be treated numerically for further calculations! A digitized and recorded signal can be further processed, e. g.: arithmetic, regression analysis, spectrum analysis (FFT), waveform arithmetic and analysis, plotting, digital filtering, etc.. This will be very interesting for a super secret future project 😉

So in order to install two of those oscilloscope cards, I had to rearrange few cards. My old “gaming graphics card” (AMD Radeon 7700XT Series) had to be replaced by a smaller graphics card (Nvidia Quadro FX 580). The graphics card needed to be smaller in size because of the limited space inside of the PC housing and PCI/PCIe slot arrangement. After installing the oscilloscope cards, it is very necessary to leave space between card in order to prevent thermal failures by heat buildup. The oscilloscope cards may heat up in the order of 60 °C during operation and maybe up to 65 °C during data acquisition. If one does not take care of this issue, the cards may overheat and fail over time. I also cleaned the PC with air duster and a vacuum cleaner in order to clear the slots from dust.

I hope this workstation will last few more years. I have already found an external PCI solution. A friend of mine ordered an unbranded adapter from China (based on an IC type P17C9X) for a very low price of ~25 EUR. It’s a PCIe-to-PCI bridge which serializes the PCI signals and transmits them via a USB-like cable to a PC. Since the whole thing is standardized, no further Windows/Linux drivers are needed. This concept proved to work with few tested PCI cards (e. g. NI PCI-GPIB) where the power consumption is fairly low. However, the PCI oscilloscope cards  need certain amounts of power (~25 W) during operation and therefore an external power supply is necessary. If the PCIe/PCI-bridge does not provide the amount of power needed, the PC will freeze and one will have to reboot the system in order to recover. This can be solved by attaching a Molex to SATA power connector from the power supply to the PCIe/PCI-bridge. The “Chinese “module does not work with full-length PCI cards as seen in the pictures. I’ll try to desolder the SATA connector and arrange it differently in order to avoid the collision.