Funny Hats, Miniatures and LaTeX

Last week something rather neat happened; my friend Jordan (Jim) put on the traditional Wizard Hat and Robes (warning: NSFW text) and went through the usual University graduation ritual. Jordan actually technically graduated quite a while back and has been out in the workforce, but hadn’t had a formal graduation ceremony before now due to the University’s odd cutoff dates to attend the mid- and end-year ceremonies. Congratulations Jim!

Jordan's University Graduation, 2011

That’s him in the middle, obviously, flanked by my other – yes, I have at least 2! – friend Luke on the left and myself on the right. Luke will also be graduating soon as will I, however I’ll be over in Norway by the time my ceremony will roll around. I’ll just have to just make a funny hat out of cardboard and sit in a cheap folding chair for a few hours by myself, and get my diploma(s) by mail.

Having a friend formally graduate really made me realize that my formal education is coming to a close, and soon I really will be out in the workforce. After nearly 17 years of formal education the thought of not having defined assignments with rigid “correct” answers and someone to watch over my progress this is a bit daunting; soon I’ll be in charge of real products and people will actually depend on the code, designs and ideas I produce. I’m very excited to finally move out into the real world and make an impact (hopefully in a good way, not an evil-scientist-run-mad way) but at the same time terrified of moving outside the bounds of an educational institution.


Related to said institution, I’ve now essentially finished my Final Year Project code – it’s functional, but as expected I didn’t have time to put in everything I wanted, and I had to make a few concessions. That’s pretty standard fare for a large scale project, and I’m thrilled I got as far as I did, but I can’t help but feel a little pang of disappointment that I probably wont be able to work on it again, for a while at least. I’ve now started the planning of my thesis writeup, which over the next four weeks should wear down my keyboard and sanity by roughly equal amounts. I’ve discovered LaTeX in the process of planning said thesis, which I’ve known about for years but ignored in favor of simpler and cruddier standard WYSIWYG word processors. I’ve already become familiar with LaTeX’s concept of “programming” documents through my use of Doxygen documentation in the LUFA codebase, so the transition isn’t as jarring as I expected it to be and so far I’m liking it a lot. Having a deterministic output and being able to compile my thesis from a command line strikes a chord with my inner geek programmer. It also stores into my SVN repository nicely, which is a big plus.


Also last week I received a very small package with yet another cool toy; a Xprotolab from Gabotronics. I’ll shamelessly steal their photo of it, since I’m an awful photographer:

Ever since I powered it on, my mouth has been hanging open. It’s a…well, it’s hard to describe in only a few words. It’s a tiny board with a very clear B&W OLED screen, and it has a bajillion functions:

  • Mixed Signal Oscilloscope
  • Two Channel Multimeter (with different display modes)
  • Spectrum Analyzer
  • Arbitrary Waveform Generator
  • 8-Channel Logic Analyzer

Each function with a number of sub-functions. To be fair, the specifications are quite low – much lower than even an entry level “proper” Oscilloscope – but it fills a niche, and boy does it fill it well. I really, really want to see these in the hands of every first year EE at a minimum, since I’ve already found it immensely useful as a debug tool. For my robot, I had it hooked up to monitor the battery and 5V logic supply rails in dual meter mode, which was a heck of a lot more convenient than having a pair of multimeter attached – and I could still drive it around with the Xprotolab hanging off the side. As a test, I also hooked up the digital portion to my robot’s I2C bus, and used the logic analyzer function in protocol decoding mode to get a live decoding of the I2C bus data, just for fun. The screen is absolutely tiny, but it’s got a decent resolution which allows it to show quite a lot of information all at once. For $50, it’s a nice addition to anyone’s toolkit, and definitely something I have no qualms in recommending. It’s not a replacement for full scale gear, but for applications within its capabilities it’s much more convenient.




Comments: 5

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Hi Dean.

Ever the pedant (me) … “but it fills a nice” might be better as “but it fills a niche”.

Sorry you will not get to wear a cape and funny hat. But sitting around for hours until it is your turn to accept the much deserved accolades can be boring… been there done that.




Whoops, fixed!

I’m honestly not to upset about missing my graduation next year – getting an awesome job straight out of University is (to me) far more important, and a bigger life milestone.

– Dean


The XProtolab is available to students for 35$. You have to contact the webmaster and ask for a student code. Another option is to buy the Kit.

– Thomas


If true, that’s amazing! It’s great to see companies big and small taking care of students. Mine was gratis, but for $35 I might pick up a couple more. Atmel needs a similar student discount program.

– Dean


Hi Dean, thanks for the article. Thomas is correct about the student price. I have also started producing the Xminilab, the same features as the Xprotolab but with a bigger display.


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Vital Stats

  • 35 Years Old
  • Australian
  • Lover of embedded systems
  • Firmware engineer
  • Self-Proclaimed Geek

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