Making the Ferrograph SDX 63 Aurora XML aware

I mentioned in a previous post how we have used an old Ferrograph SDX 63 LED moving message display / wallboard and Robert Cowards excellent ADF firmware to give us a sign that is to be used for our Extreme Feedback device.

Once i had got my head round the Alpha Protocol, i started to knit a huge perl module together to control the sign. Essentially all it did was create an alpha protocol formated string and send it to the sign. At first this seed to be the logical way to approach the problem. I had already written an IRC bot that announces the build status into the channel and it too was written in about 10 lines of perl, so giving the bot access to the the sign module would allow the bot to relay messages to the sign.

However, once you start send messages to the sign you realise that what you actually want is an SGML way of writing message to the sign, that is to say, create your message in your mark up then send it to the sign. The sign itself only has a Z80 processor and its already overburdened with the task of displaying data on the LEDs, so making the sign understand SGML was out of the question. So how about using XML and transforming the XML through an XSLT that would result in a stream of data the sign could understand? At last i found something i actually made real use of XML transformation.

XSLT is commonly used to turn XML into html, all i had to do was create an XSL with the appropriate taxonomy for the ADF firmware and then build up my message using my own SGML.

I’ve never found a use for XML before, I’ve always found it to be a bit pointless, but then that s probably to do with my age. Once upon a time we only had 8-bit processors and 1k of RAM, and those sort of constraints make you think about how you are going to deal with your data very carefully. The last thing i would do is transmit 80 bytes of data in a 4k document, just because it can specify its contents.

SO no sooner had I finished my work when as usual i found i wasn’t the first, and software already exists that can speak the Alpha protocol and uses XML and XSLT its called bbxml (BB from the betabrite signs). Bugger!

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