If you’ve been a regular user of the Interactive LED Sign here at operation 9—and there have been many thousands of you since the beginning of 2009—you may be wondering what happened; it’s been down for a couple of months now, after all. Well, there’s a story to that.

After moving from Windows XP Pro (SP3) to Windows 7 Ultimate x64, things started getting hairy given the control 7 likes to have over its ports. Not only that, the “upgrade” path—or rather, the lack of one—wiped the server environment. While I was able to get all that patched up, something else inevitably happened early last month: the PC’s motherboard up and died a few days after being laid off from my job of nearly 5 years, rendering the machine inoperative for a few weeks. Unfortunately, the replacement motherboard doesn’t have a serial port on-board, which means I need to shell out a few bucks to buy one to occupy an open card slot. Not a big deal, really, but I’ve been concentrating my efforts on gainful employment in the meantime.

So, to make it short and sweet, it’ll be back sooner or later. Don’t fret.

If you’re interested in setting up your own interactive LED sign, don’t forget to check out Alphabrite. Not only is it being used by nerdy enthusiasts like myself, several have written to let me know they’ve integrated it into their internal corporate environment. Not bad for an application whose 1.0 release was written in the span of a week.

Donations to fund further development are, as always, graciously accepted.

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Posted on Sun, Feb 21, 2010 at 12:42AM

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One of the more useful shields for the Arduino I picked up in the last month has to be Seeed Studio’s Solar Charger Shield. Costing $10.50, I couldn’t pass it up. I put together a quick demonstration using a solar panel I parted out of some sub-$10 solar chargers I bought on eBay and a 2000mAh Lithium-Ion battery pack I received as part of Sparkfun’s Free Day.

Do pardon the intermittent squeaking; granite countertops and header pins don’t mix.

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Posted on Sun, Feb 21, 2010 at 12:22AM

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Version 1.0 of Alphabrite LED Display Control Center—or, simply enough, Alphabrite v1.0—is ready for download. This application allows remote or local administration of your Alpha or Betabrite LED Display using PHP4 and 5 with the cURL extension. The application supports every sign that adheres to the Alpha 1.0 Protocol. (See README for more details.)

Available Modules:

  • Public Interaction: Interface your LED sign to the Internet through your website. By only embedding two lines of code, you’ll have everything you need on the front-end to accept feedback—without interrupting the flow of your other active modules. Includes optional notification of messages by email and/or to its own Twitter feed.
  • Stock Quotes: Define the stocks you want to watch and keep tabs on them through the ticker. (Stock quotes are on a 20-minute delay, so DON’T use it for determining whether to execute a trade.)
  • Weather: Get Current Conditions for your ZIP code, as well as Local Forecasts for two days out.
  • RSS Feeds: Define your feed and scan whatever headlines you feel like staying abreast of.
  • Twitter Recapping: Create an account for your sign on Twitter and, in combination with the Public Interaction module, display both current and archived messages sent to your sign. Or, if you prefer, display your personal feed instead.
  • Time/Date Display & Synchronization: For those, like me, without proper serial clock chips inside their Alpha or Betabrite unit, these functions will both display and regularly synchronize your time and date (on supported models).
  • Basecamp Integration*: If you’re a user of Basecamp by 37signals, keep track of the latest activity through this module. Especially useful for Project Managers.
  • IMAP Inbox Check*: Check how many unread messages you have, and how many messages you have total. This is pre-set to Gmail for your convenience.

Hardware Functions Provided:

  • Set Date/Time, Set Day of the Week, Set Time Format, Schedule Messages, Speaker On/Off, Generate Tone, Clear Priority Message (A0), Clear Non-Priority Memory (page or entirely), Soft Reset, Set Sequence (Data Reset), Update Sequence (Data Refresh)
  • Includes the PHP RS-232 method (alphawrite.php), which requires the fantastic and included ‘php_serial.class.php’ by Rémy Sanchez (http://hyperthese.net/).
  • Furthermore, unit resets and refreshes can be automated via a simple crontab (or its Windows equivalent) using the provided utilities.

This was tested on an Alpha PPD220—a two-line, red LED display by Adaptive Displays. Should you run into any problems, please submit them here.

* See the README for important details and security caveats involved with the utilization of these modules.

Download: Alphabrite v1.0 (97kb, zip)

If you use and/or like what you see, consider clicking here to help fund further development.

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Posted on Mon, Jan 19, 2009 at 09:32PM

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With my other LED reverse-engineering project waiting on a cable, I picked up an Alpha PPD220 (Personal Priority Display) LED Sign—probably the most basic model there is in their product line—off eBay at about 15% of the MSRP. (I’d prefer a Alpha 4160C, but I’m pretty sure the WAF (wife acceptance factor) wouldn’t permit it.) Alpha PPD220

Telling by the message that was still in its memory when I powered it on, this particular LED sign used to serve as a display at a lottery terminal somewhere in South Carolina. Within an hour or so of hacking away on some code from these guys, however, I was able to interface it using PHP and Perl—the latter posing as the messenger with the RS-232 serial interface—to accept messages from the public at large.

So, with that done, it was time to improve upon it. In between moments of helping my wife recover from all four of her wisdom teeth being pulled, I decided to build a library (from scratch) for the sign. Because of the shared protocol, the library I have in development should work with most, if not all Alpha and Betabrite models from Adaptive Displays, but I really can’t test that to verify beyond this basic little unit.

Here’s a bit of what it does in its current state:

  • Supports the Alpha 1.0 protocol mostly, with a little (untested) 2.0 and 3.0
  • Accommodates both paged sequences (AA-AZ) and PRIORITY Text (A0)
  • Synchronizes the system clock on the unit with the server automatically
  • Pulls in RSS feeds using Simplepie
  • Pulls in Current Weather and the Local Forecast via Yahoo’s API
  • Allows people visiting my site to enter messages without interrupting the flow of information (news, weather, time, etc.)
  • Added basic administrative functions (soft reset, speaker on/off, clear memory, etc.)
  • Added the ability to update a Twitter account with the last submitted message from the web. Sad.
  • Added the ability to notify me by email when someone submits a message. Doubly sad.
  • Updates every hour on the hour via a crontab which refreshes all the data

There’s still a lot of work to be done to maximize its utility (and for me to be comfortable enough to release it), but I’ll get to it as time permits. As it is, it’s become something far more useful than displaying lottery numbers and jackpot totals.

Want to give it a whirl? Feel free to check the sign out over here and drop a note while you’re at it.

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Posted on Sun, Jan 11, 2009 at 06:28PM

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