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Archive for June, 2015


It’s a Sign – Parola

The Makerspace group that I’m involved with, Fraser Valley Makers, got to setup a booth this year at Vancouvers Mini Maker Faire on June 6 & 7. I was asked if I could lend them a few of my finished projects to display in their booth. And I happily obliged.

The group had made a rather large wooden sign advertising them at the faire but they remembered my matrix displays that I use when I build my scrolling clocks and asked if I could put a little sign together for them.

Any one who knows me, well, is aware that I don’t half do things. So I grabbed 24 of my little matrix displays, routed out a pine plank to fit them, installed them in it and it was hung at the booth for the show.

Parola FVMakers

The modules all use the Arduino Parola library.

There are three messages for the sign display. Each of them cycle 5 times before going on to the next.

Parola FVM Sign

The third message in the sign I decided to make programmable so they could change it what ever they wanted. The kicker was trying to figure out the best way of changing it. Of course the simple method would have been just connect up a USB cable from the Arduino to a nearby computer, change the sketch and re-upload it.

True, that would have been simple, but also a pain in the rump because the computer was going to be 15 or 20 feet away. And then they had to have the sketch and so on. So my mind started to think wireless thoughts. Could be simple RF with via a serial link from the computer to the sign, but then I started to think “access point”.

I briefly entertained the ESP8266 but for all the accolades I read about them my experience is they are cheap for a reason. And not exactly easy to use (like an AT command set from a bad 80’s movie). I understand this is changing but the steps for putting whatever firmware they require to make them “friendly” is not exactly documented in any easy to follow step by step method that I can find. Nor are they Mac friendly when putting firmware on them. Thus until such time as that changes, to me, they are still just junk. Destined to sit in my parts bin.

Then I remembered I had a couple of USR232 WIFI-T’s in the parts bin.


Setting them up as an access point is stupid easy. Because I didn’t want to screw around with HTML coding, I decided I’d use plain old TCP to send messages to the sign.

On my Mac’s, that was easy. Change my wireless to the sign’s AP, then fire up the Terminal, type in Telnet 8899 and presto. Worked perfect. Anything I typed showed up on the sign instantly.

Thus Mac control was simple. However, for all the makers in our group there’s only two of us with Macs. All the others are Windows. Took me about 10 seconds to research enough about Windows to find it essentially has nothing like Terminal built in. Actually, someone told me the only thing Windows did have built in was obsolescence. Since I know beans about Windows, I don’t think I’d put much stock in that statement. After all, all computers are designed to be short lived. Nature of the market and all.

At any rate, I set off to find a Windows TCP client and I ended up with puTTYtel (TCP Telnet). After changing the “session” from active to passive, it worked perfectly as well.

The sign ran perfectly for the entire faire but the funny part was that the other makers who looked at it, assumed it was a commercial sign and not one that someone had hacked together with Arduino control. Talk about hiding in plain sight…