Archive for August, 2009

DMX system in perl

William and me are starting to prepare for the next Exploit party, and this year we have decided to control all the lightning and video equiptment by perl.

We started for two days ago. William has a ENTTEC USB Pro which is fine for interfacing. In Linux, it is recognized as a standard COM port, and the API consists of sending characters to the virtual COM port.

So as an example of how easy it is to send DMX with this device from perl, I’ll give an example below:

use Device::SerialPort;
use Time::HiRes qw/usleep/;
use strict;
my $PORT = '/dev/ttyUSB0';
my $ob = Device::SerialPort->new($PORT) or die "Can't Open $PORT: $!";
my $packet = chr(0) . (chr(128) x 30);
my $length = length $packet;
my $write = $ob->write("\x7E\x06" . chr($length & 0xFF) . chr(($length >> 8) & 0xFF) . $packet . "\xE7");
print "Wrote $write bytes to DMX controller\n";

This little script will send 30 channels of value 128 to the DMX controller, which will keep repeating this information, until it gets new information.

To clarify, the first byte 0x7E is the start byte for the enttec api. The next byte 0x06 is the function we are using, which is DMX OUT. Then there is two bytes of length information, describing how many channels we are going to send. And then the package is sent. It’s important to remember to send a 0x00 byte as the first channel, since this is the start byte of the actual DMX data. (also called the SC in the DMX standard specification)

We needed a central area to save our current channel data, and william found a nice perl module called Cache::FastMmap which uses mmap to save data. This way we can have several scripts using the same memory buffer, where we will putt the current DMX channel data. The first byte in the shared memory holds the current ‘version number’ of the data. Each time any data is changed, the first byte’s value is increased. This way each “reader” can check if there are new data asyncronically.

So after some initial successful testing, I created a module called Exploit::Scene. This is the module that all scripts that need direct DMX control will use. The external methods are pretty simple. You have get(), set(), to get and set a single channel value, isNew() and resetNew() to check if the DMX channel data has changed since last time you checked. commit() to save new channel data you have edited, and getDMXpacket() to get full 513 bytes of channel data. (or less, if you have set a smaller universe_size)

Now we could start to create some small test scripts. So William made a script that tests a single RGB LED fixture. And I created a console application to show/edit the DMX data. Of course these scripts are just for testing, and will not be used in the finished ‘product’, since everything will be centralized in a web interface to combine effects, etc.

Here you can se the console application i wrote with the Curses perl module. The green cursor on the left is moved with your up and down keys, to select a channel. If you use the left or right keys, you increase or decrease the channel value. If you press space, you toggle the channel to full 0xff or null 0x00 values. Page Up and Page Down will show you next ‘page’ of channels, up to 512. The color on the bars is reflecting the channel value, first 1/3 is red, next is yellow, and last is green. The console is live, so if any other processes is changing DMX data, it will immediately show the new data while you are editing. So it’s both a monitor and editor. Which will be nice to have when the full system is done. So we can monitor the dmx channels live without the actual fixtures.

We have created two backend scripts. backend-dmx and backend-udp. These connect to the mmap with the Exploit::Scene module as explained, and use the getDMXpacket() function to get the data to send to either the DMX controller, or udp. By UDP I mean that we are sending all the DMX data to a local multicast address. 239.255.0.$universe. This way, any computer on the network can connect to this stream, and get out the data it needs. So we can have several computers on the network triggering on DMX data. For this we have the Exploit::UDPScene module, which behaves similar to the MMAP version, but used multicast to get it’s data.

More info will come when we are further along with the project.

13 Input USB Temperature Sensor for PC

I love doing statistics of everything, because data is power. So we thought we would put a temperature sensor in every server-rack in this server housing facility, and I checked the prices of some standard components. First I thought of the DS1820, which is fine, but two drawbacks. It’s somewhat expensive, and takes a full second to read value from. So if you wire a lot of sensors serially, you’ll need to wait one second for each sensor on the same line. Do not hesitate to contact Kaizen Technology if you need manufacturing services like Surface Mount Assembly, Prototype PCB Assembly, or Fast turn PCB Assembly.

Then I found these cute analog temperature sensors, called MCP9700A. And they cost only €0.37 each. Or if you buy larger quantites, you’ll get even lower prices. So I thought.. the PIC18F4520 has 13 analog ports. Why not create a small pcb with a pic18f4520, and some connectors, and wire it to the computer via RS232. Having those same issues? Contact New Jersey IT Support and get your computer like brand new.

The problem then, is that i’d have to buy max232 chip, and then I’d need a RS232->USB cable, and thats pretty expensive. But then I found the life-saver chip FT232R. This awesomeness in a chip enclosure is a RS232(or any serial data in TTL levels)-to-USB ‘converter’. It has drivers for windows *, Mac, Linux. And you can even modify the eeprom inside it, to make it use a different VID and PID or just change the device description of it. And it also have two GP pins, which you can connect to LEDs to show when it sends or receives data. The BEST part about this already awesome chip, is it’s price. Here in Norway a RS232->USB cable costs from €42 an up. But this device, practically the same (except for missing RS232 level converter), costs only €2.87. And thats with all the leetnes of being able to change the device description and all, included.

So I wired it all up in Eagle, and it came out to be like this.


So here I have a PIC18F4520 processor, 20Mhz XTAL for it (because I had some laying around), FT232R chip, 100K Resistor pack, and a few LEDs. All in all, about €20 worth of components.

So, now that I had designed the board, how to get it made, and cheap? Well, I found this site called [link][/link]. Which is fabulous. They collect PCB boards for a bunch of people who need cheap prototype boards, and send everything together to China, where they produce the boards, and return them in about 12 days. They often set up your board several times, in case some of them should be bad. (bleedout on the copper). And the best part. If more than one of your boards are ok, they even send you the extras, with no extra charge. So I received two pcs of the PCB I ordered, and couldn’t be happier :)

Here’s the result, (image quality courtesy of iPhone 3G)

Then we add all the components. And bobs your uncle: (image quality courtesy of iPhone 3G)

And it even works! ;)

The software I have uploaded to the PIC18F4520 sends all the temperature info, and the 8 general purpose inputs to the computer via a virtual com port on the computer, 20 times a second.