Frost on a roof

An Arduino TV Simulator

SimTV: Arduino Uno and RGB shield A simple method to keep burglars away from your home is a TV simulator. It's basically a device with some bright RGB LEDs showing color patterns that resemble those of a telly turned on. They are sold at many electronic retailers. However, some customer reviews say that the color patterns do not look very realistic, with some distinctive flashes and colors that are usually not to be seen on a regular movie. Besides that, the color patterns often repeat after about half an hour.

Actually, distinctive color patterns that repeat after a short time, are a major disadvantage. Experienced burglars might recognize the color patterns and figure out it's a TV simulator. This would rather be an invitation than a deterrent.

So, let's build a better TV simulator ourselves. It's also more fun than buying something ready.

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Back again...

After a GDPR hiatus, the shredzone is back!

I used the time for a total redesign and a cleanup. The design is now responsive, so you can enjoy the articles on the big screen as well as on your smartphone. I have removed all the unnecessary stuff that were modern in blogs 10 years ago, but actually just cluttered the screen (like the calendar and the tag cloud).

There are a few bugs left and some features missing. I will take care of them in the next couple of weeks.

Anyhow, I hope you like the new design!

By the way: The shredzone turns 20 this year. Congratulations! 🎂

Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Errors in GitLab SonarQube plugin

The sonar-gitlab-plugin is an useful plugin to connect SonarQube with GitLab. After pushing, the branch is inspected by SonarQube, and code smells are immediately commented in the commit.

Unfortunately, the error messages of that plugin are a little difficult to understand. It took me a while to collect this little cookbook of error fixes.

  • Unable found project for null project name
    In SonarQube, as Administrator, select the project. Then in Administration ⭢ General Settings ⭢ GitLab, enter the project ID of your project and save it. The project ID is the group name in GitLab, followed by a slash and the name of the project, e.g. shred/timemachine.

  • Unable found project for mygroup/myproject
    In SonarQube, check that the project ID is correct and there are no spelling mistakes. In GitLab, make sure that SonarQube's GitLab user is actually a member of the project, and that the user has Developer rights. I hit a strange bug in GitLab here. The SonarQube user was a member of the project, but still this error occured. When logging in as the SonarQube user, the project was not on the roll of projects. Removing and adding Developer rights to the user didn't help. The only thing that finally worked was to add the SonarQube user to a different project, even if just for a moment. It seems to be a caching problem in GitLab.

  • Multiple found projects for mygroup/myproject
    You should never see this error, but if you do, be more specific with the projectID.

Recovering old ZX Spectrum tapes, Part 2

The ZX Spectrum was a comparable cheap home computer, and thus the tape loading and saving mechanisms have not been very sophisticated. The tape recording is just a stream of short waves (0 bit) and long waves (1 bit). The stream starts with a leader signal (a series of even longer waves) and a single sync pulse. So, in the theory, reading a tape recording means measuring single wave lengths, by taking the time between two zero-crossings, and converting them into a sequence of bytes.

But then again, we are dealing with 1980's analog technique. In practice, we will find signals like this. A click produced an additional zero-crossing that is to be ignored. Also, the amplitudes and DC offsets change all the time.

And pooof... There went another week of nightly hacking Python code, having very close looks at audio waves, and searching for clues about why tzxwav won't behave like I expect it to behave. But I think the result is worth looking at now! tzxwav now reads almost all of my tape samples without those dreaded CRC errors. If there are CRC errors, the sample was usually so damaged that it would need manual restauration.

And as a bonus, it is now almost twice as slow as before. 🤭 But speed was never a goal anyway, as people are likely to convert their old tapes only once.

Recovering old ZX Spectrum tapes

The author, on Christmas Eve 1985 Since I am in the mood of heavy ZX Spectrum retro action, I dug out all my old computer tapes in an attept to digitize and convert them. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought...

The first trouble was to find a tape player. I had disposed my last tape recorder a couple of years ago. The new ones I found at Amazon looked nice on the first sight. They could be connected to the USB port or even digitize the tapes straight to an USB stick. The customer reviews were scaring off: cheap plastic, poor sound, digitizing to USB stick was only possible on battery power... I had more luck on eBay, where I found a genuine 1990’s Aiwa Walkman (it’s even a recorder, with auto reverse and Dolby NR) in good condition for about the same price.

I connected the Walkman to my computer’s microphone input using a cable with 3.5mm stereo jacks, selected the correct tape type (Normal or CrO2), and turned off Dolby NR. Then I digitized right away, using Audacity for recording and post processing. I used 16 bits per channel, and a 44100 Hz sampling rate. The ZX Spectrum provided a mono signal, so I chose the left or right channel (depending on the quality) and discarded the other one. Mixing down the stereo signal turned out to be problematic, as well as using a lossy file format like ogg.

The WAV files can be loaded into the Fuse Emulator, but it’s better to convert them to TZX files, as they are much smaller. There are a few tools for that, for example audio2tape that comes with Fuse. I wasn’t satisified with the result though, as the generated TZX files contained many CRC errors. MakeTZX is also worth a try, as it supports digital filters, but I was unable to make it run on Linux. Some other converter tools are for Windows only, and thus not very interesting. 😉

So I found myself writing a set of TZX tools in Python. It contains tzxwav, that’s yet another tool for converting WAV files to TZX files, but is robust against poor audio quality. It took me three weeks of work, and about 30 hours of tape material, until it was able to successfully read almost all of my tape recordings.

An advantage of TZX files is that they contain the raw ZX Spectrum binaries, so they are very easy to extract. tzxcat allows to retrieve single binaries from TZX files, which can then be converted into PNG files, BASIC sources or whatever, provided there are converters for it.

What I have now are TZX files of all my old ZX Spectrum tapes. It was very interesting to rediscover my old files, screens, programs and source codes. In 1987 and 1988, I wrote a lot of more or less useful tools, designed several fonts and completed two demos.