Capturing Serial Data from Nidec Shimpo Force Gauge

We wanted to automate some testing. We had a Nidec Shimpo FG-3008 force gauge that we wanted to capture data from, but no obvious way to get it. Nidec Shimpo do offer their EDMS software that can log and graph data over time, but it can’t be automated.

The force gauge has two connectors, a USB-B port that is used for charging the force gauge and another port that has a serial out (only for connection to a printer) and some output pins that react relative to a set pin.

When connected via USB, the force gauge shows up as a COM port. The EDMS software obviously connects using this port. Connecting a terminal to the port doesn’t show any data streaming, implying a query needs to be sent to the force gauge to trigger a reading.

We eventually figured out that when you send a ‘?’ (0x3f) to the force gauge, it replies with the current force reading in plain text, of length dependent on the number of characters in the measured value, the last character always being a carriage return (0x0d).

Testing with Realterm

With this information, data capture can be easily automated with Python.

import serial

ser = ser_obj = serial.Serial("COM4",
baudrate=9600,
parity=serial.PARITY_NONE,
stopbits=serial.STOPBITS_ONE,
bytesize=serial.EIGHTBITS,
timeout=2)

ser.write('?')
ser.read_until(CR)

Retrofitting a 2008 Hyundai Tucson with Keyless Entry

We purchased a second hand car a few years ago. When we got it, it came with one key, and no keyless entry remote. Some 2008 Hyundai Tucson’s came with a keyless entry remote, but there was no way for me to determine if our car had the necessary hardware. If it did, I could simply purchase a new key and get it re-programmed. However queries with Hyundai only resulted in new-car sales pitches, and I wasn’t going to risk wasting $100 to buy a key and get it re-programmed with no guarantee.

Instead, I installed a garage-remote receiver in my car. The car has central-locking which is triggered by using the key in the door. Using a remote controlled relay, one can send the same signal to the central locking system as the key switch does. I used an old receiver I had lying around, similar to this. There are many different remote control kits available that can be used here. The important things to check are that they will operate off 12 VDC and how much current the receiver uses when idle.

The ETACS (Electronic Time and Alarm Control System) in the Hyundai Tucson draws up to 4mA black current. That is, when the car is off. Ideally you want a receiver with a similar, or lower current draw. My receiver draws about 10mA. Not ideal, but I did the math and determined that as long as we drove the car once every two weeks, we shouldn’t come anywhere near to flattening the battery (less than 2 Ah per week).

The switches in the door keylocks simply short the signal line to ground to trigger locking/unlocking. I chose to use the passenger/assistant door key switch. If you use the driver door key switch, you may have to push the unlock button twice to get it to open, as when unlocking with the key, once has to twist the key twice.

All the connections you need are by the ETACS, and the ETACS also has space around it (in my manual transmission in any case) to mount the receiver.

The ETACS is located below the gear lever. To access it, one has to remove several sections of fascia. You can see how to do that looking at the photos in the below gallery:

Once all the screws are undone, you can remove the last section by pulling it away from the center console. There are hooks, but no clips, so it should come out fairly easily.

The ETACS has three connectors going into it. They are all clipped in place. The below image shows the important pins, as viewed from behind, the connector (direction from which the wires go in), when plugged in.

While your battery is still connected, check the voltage on each of the pins. Battery+ should read around 12.5V, while all the other ones should measure near 0V. Check for continuity between the Ground, Signal Ground and a grounded part of the vehicle. Then you can try locking and unlocking the car, by shorting the signal ground line and the applicable lock/unlock signal.

Once you’ve tested that these function correctly you should disconnect the battery from the car, and then you can unplug the ETACS to connect the necessary wires.

If you have the tools to solder or crimp the connections in, I definitely advise that. I used dual-row screw terminals, although I acknowledge they’re not the best option for auto use. Connect the Battery+ and ground lines to the power connection on your receiver, preferably including an inline fuse.

My receiver has two switches. Both of them are normally open, and when activated will connect two terminals. As such on the one switch I hooked up the lock and signal ground lines, and on the second switch I connected the unlock and signal ground lines.

Once connected, make sure everything is insulated, and connect it back up. Connect your battery again to test out your remote. If it works correctly, find a way to mount your receiver, using foam where applicable to prevent rattling. Add insulation to any of the wires which may rub against sharp edges.

Phantom Notifications – Moto X4 – Android Pie

Phantom vibrations are a thing. I’ve experienced them before. You feel a vibration in your pocket, reach for your phone, and realise your phone is actually sitting on your desk. But this was different.

After my phone updated to Android Pie, I started receiving notifications, but my watch didn’t indicate anything, and when I looked at my phone, it didn’t show any new notifications. This happened multiple times a day, much to my annoyance.

There were two steps to sorting this out, first figuring out what was causing the notification, and then figuring out how to stop them occuring.

Android lets you put a widget on your home screen that will show you a history of all your notifications. Add a Settings widget, and select Notification log from the list (I learned about this on reddit). Now wait.

Selection Notification log from the Settings widget options list

When you get a notification, you can open the notification log, and view what it was that happened. In my case it was my Download Manager. Which is weird, because it’s telling me about things I downloaded days and weeks ago. Annoying. But at least we know what it is now.

Notification log showing the most recent notifications.

The normal way to turn something off is to open the app, and go to its notification settings. However the Download Manager is a background app, so instead you go to Settings > Apps & Notifications > See all apps, then tap the menu button in the top right, and select Show system.

Get Settings to show you system apps.

You can then select the offending app, and change it’s notifications settings. In my case I just stopped showing notifications for the Download Manager app.

It’s been almost two weeks now, and I haven’t had another occurrence of the phantom notifications. After experiencing them almost daily, this is quite an improvement.

Grand Arizona

For every day that we spend in the US, we add another location to our list of places we want to visit. As such, it’s nice to every now and then actually tick something off the list.

Earlier this month we were able to welcome my parents to the US for a short vacation. We used this as an excuse to do a trip out to the Grand Canyon, and see just a few of the many sights Arizona has to offer.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is a well-known international destination, and for good reason. Growing up in South Africa I had the opportunity to visit Namibia, and hike through the Fish River Canyon. With majestic views and beautiful scenery, it’s a sight to behold. But as the saying going, everything’s bigger in America.

We’ll skip around the confusing definition of what a canyon is, versus a gorge, or valley, or kloof, or poort, or the many other words with similar but different meanings, and just accept that the Grand Canyon is much larger than the Fish River Canyon, but by no means the largest in the world, or even the Americas.

Stretching almost 540 km, the canyon reaches depths of almost 2 km, with rims as far apart as 30 km. It is truly grand to behold. The most common place to visit is the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. And this is where we ended up. November is considerably cooler than the Summer months, and although snow is always a risk, we were blessed with very mild conditions. The cold weather does ensure far fewer visitors to the park compared to the summer months.

From LA it’s a pretty easy 8 hour drive to the Grand Canyon. There are different routes you can take, but not a lot to be seen if you’re trying to do a one day trip. Above you can see our full route for the trip. Green marks a place we overnighted, yellow marks a POI we stopped at and blue is the route we drove on a particular day.

We spent two two full days exploring the Grand Canyon National Park (three nights), opting to stay at an AirBnB just out side the park instead of the variety of hotels within the Park. Camping is on the list for next time, but wasn’t feasible with overseas guests. Instead we got a spacious, woodfire heated cabin, miles away from anyone, all to ourselves.

Two days is certainly not enough time to see everything in the park (and we were only looking at the South Rim), but we tried to see as much as we could. Day 1 we just spent getting our bearings. Hiking out to Yaki point in the East, returning via shuttle for lunch, and doing a combination of hiking and taking shuttles along the rim path to Pima Point in the West. Getting to take in all the splendour of the canyon, spending plenty of time stopping for photos.

Bright Angel Trailhead, Grand Canyon National Park

For day 2, we really wanted to get into the canyon a bit. The easiest way to do this is the Bright Angel Trail. Starting in the Grand Canyon Village, the trail drops down past two rest stations and onto a small plateau. From there it carries on through the Indian Garden where it splits. One route takes you further to Phantom Ranch (on the north side of the Colorado River), and the other to Plateau Point ( a viewpoint into the canyon).

The National Parks Service (NPS) have to deal with hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to the park every year. All of them wanting to see the canyon. Many of them of questionable fitness. Unlike most hiking trails which make you do all the hard work first (climbing the mountain) and give you an easy route back, hiking into the canyon is the opposite of this. As the signs regularly warn you, “Down is Optional, Up is Mandatory”. Additionally many of these people arrive in the heat of summer.

Grand Canyon National Park

This has resulted in the NPS posting very conservative times for completion of hiking routes. We got down to the Indian Garden in pretty good time, but had no idea how long it would take us to get back. Taking the NPS posted times into consideration, as well as the short winter days, we opted to head back up instead of pushing on to the plateau viewpoint.

In hindsight, we could have easily made it to the rim and back without trouble. The hike back up, although gaining considerable elevation, does so at a steady gradient. Meaning it only took us marginally longer to get out, than it did to get in.

Oh well, now we know for next time. We did at least get a chance to stop by the Yavapai Museum of Geology, which offers spectacular views into the canyon, and good displays explaining how the canyon came to form. Well worth the visit.

Grand Canyon National Park

Our next stop was Page, Arizona. If you’re heading north, you should definitely take the time to drive the Desert Trail along the rim of the canyon out East, instead of just sticking to the main roads through Flagstaff. Beyond the additional viewpoints, you also get to stop at the Desert View Watchtower for even more spectacular views of the canyon and the Colorado River.

Dinosaur Tracks, Tuba City

When travelling between Page and the Grand Canyon South Rim, you can also stop by Moenkopi Dinosaur Tracks. Sitting on a part of the Navajo Nation, this attraction is self-managed, and not part of a National Park. In my opinion this makes for a non-ideal situation. You’re given an amazing first hand experience of multiple dinosaur artifacts, including very clear dinosaur tracks, with the ability to even touch them. However, there is no thought of conservation. And no information is available, besides what a guide may be able to tell you. Entrance is free, but you will be approached by locals offering to guide you, also free of charge. You should take a tour, and tip your guide at the end. Less than half an hour, but amazing to see. You can read more about it here.

Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon National Park

Page is a small town that many people probably don’t know about. It started as a company town to house the people building the Glen Canyon Dam, that contains Lake Powell. Many residents now work for the nearby Navajo Power Station.

Lees Ferry, Glen Canyon National Park

Lake Powell is a popular tourist destination for boating enthusiasts, but Page is also well located as a center point between a multitude of National Parks. As for things to do in Page, it’s most notable tourist attraction must be the distinct Antelope and other slot Canyons. Amazing colours, with intricate lighting provides plenty a photo opportunity. The well-known Horseshoe Bend is also only a few minutes drive out of town. We can also recommend a drive out to Lee’s Ferry. It has several great hikes, and access to the Colorado River.

Antelope Canyon, Navajo Nation

With only a week for our trip, we didn’t have time to see much else, but did make sure to drive through Zion National Park. Another location with stunning vistas, immense mountains and natural beauty. We fortunately were able to take the time to stop in the park for lunch and hop on a shuttle up into the deeper parts of the canyon. As with every stop we made on the trip, it was well worth it. Zion is definitely staying on our list of places to visit, deserving more time to hike and explore.

Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park

Our trip was scheduled to end in Ventura, visiting some family. To cut our last day in half we set our sites on Las Vegas. Picking a hotel just off the strip we were able get just some of the Vegas experience, without diving in completely. A walk down the strip, dinner and some fountains were a nice way to wind down.

Bellagio Fountains, Las Vegas

One week is by no means long as far as US roadtrips are concerned, but it gave us enough time see what we wanted to see without rushing. The trip added another 1,700 incident free miles to our car, getting it to cross the 90k mile mark somewhere between Vegas and Barstow.

The rest of the year looks to be fairly quiet beyond some local camping, but next year we hope to limit the international travel and instead focus on seeing more of the US. Zion is already on the cards for April.