Friday, September 12, 2014

Five years - and then an oscilloscope

Five years is long time between posts. I'm not going to try and explain that gap. Life has it's own priorities and this project wasn't one of them, I guess. I mean, I have done other things with my time beyond work, family, home-life and friends. In fact I have done a bit of work on the project in that period, but I didn't post about it. I can't really explain why but I do know that I get interested in something, spend a lot of time on it and then lose momentum suddenly. Or more accurately, I get distracted by something more important or interested in something else.

However, this project was always intended to be long-term. It took me years to go from a pile of bits to getting a case and thinking seriously about how to progress it. So, a bit of a gap is no great concern to me, although every year I don't have the finished article is another year I could have been using it.

On the other hand I'll be forty next year and if I aim to finish this project by then it would give me a date to work towards. As I type I have around 11 months to go, so it's attainable. Finishing would also free me up to do something else. I can't think what that would be though. 

Anyway, enough of this introspection.

One thing that has held me back from continuing with the project is having a decent scope to work with. In my early twenties I spent around three years of my work-life with a scope or soldering iron in my hand. When I'm working on electronics it's a scope that I reach for to see what's happening. It's the right tool for the job. I say a decent scope because I do have a scope, a GBDSO - Elektor Gameboy Digital Sampling Oscilloscope. This project was fun to do and produces tolerably good results but it's also a far cry from the professional kit I'm used to and, whilst a bad workman might blame his tools, a bad workman usually has bad tools. The issue is that I need this to be a pleasurable experience and using the GBDSO can be frustrating. I also want to be able to see audio traces cleanly and even some fairly pricey and professional digital scopes do a poor job of that.
So I bought a second hand Philips PM 3050 60Mhz analogue scope instead.

As you can see it's dual-trace and there's a nifty LCD display to show you the current settings. The traces on screen in that photo are the square/pulse and sawtooth output of the CEM3340 voltage controlled oscillator chip on my Roland MC-202.

The 202 was modified by me with some CV inputs years ago and has always been a bit flaky. As part of a general sort out in my studio I resolved to do something about that. I also realised that an SH-101 that I have on loan from a friend isn't working any more. No, I didn't break it. Well, I don't think I did. It's hadn't been used for years so I'm not sure what happened to it. So, I'd like to repair that too. It was these repairs that set me thinking about a scope again and how annoying the GBDSO was to use.

I've fixed the 202 now. The main issues were actually to do with removing some of the battery circuitry and disconnecting the internal sequencer. The sequencer was zapped when I did the mods originally so I decided to live without it but made a mess of the way the battery state is monitored and disconnected when the mains power is applied. I also fixed the filter audio input which never worked because I hadn't realised that the 1/4" headphone jack socket re-purposed to be the input was shorting the input to ground!

The 101 is next on the repair list and then - back to the SS30-M.

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