Adaptive Microsystems ALPHA LED Sign on Lantronix MSS terminal server

Alpha LED Sign

Every few years I pull all this out again, and every few years I’ve forgotten a thing or two and have to poke around figuring things out again after loosing a part or two. MAGFest is soon approaching, and the goal is to ask attendees not to press start on the pinball machines more than one time.

Years ago I picked up some two line LED signs from Adaptive Microsystems. These were used in call centers, at least two from “Mac Warehouse” if anyone remembers that catalog. Probably ACD queue information provided by a middleware solution between the sign and a phone system.

These connect via serial line on a 6 pin RJ-11 (6P6C) cable. The business signs can do RS232 or RS485, while the consumer BetaBrite model can do RS232 only AFAIK.

I bought some Lantronix MSS10 units from eBay dirt cheap years ago when I originally bought these. I used velcro to hold the MSS10 boxes to the back of the signs and made cables to go from the RJ11 serial port to the Lantronix. I then wired in the 5vdc for the Lantronix straight from the power supply on the sign. This way there was only a single power cord and you could plug 10mbps ethernet straight into the sign and feed it data. All this was taken apart when these were located on Granby Street in a project for Art!Everywhere during the 757 Labs Hackerspace days. So I need to put it back together, and I couldn’t find the original cabling from when the term servers were on the signs just when they were hooked to a Livingston ortmaster for the art project.

As time has gone on a lot of pages have come up about the signs, much different than when I first got them. I recommend BB-XML for talking to the signs, it’s amazing. And Walt’s LED sign page.

The pinout to go from a RJ-11 6p6c shell to a DB25 female is:
GREEN to Pin 2
RED to Pin 3
BLUE to Pin 7
This is used with a rollover cable. This is where the two plugs facing each other tip to tip, the wires are the same on both sides (bottom is same color, top is same color.) See Walt’s page for info on this.

The pin full opposite of ground (WHITE) have a +5vdc line from the sign — it needs to be removed or protected from coming into contact with other pins. Insulate or cut the 3 spare pins.

In my old cables I swear I connected CTS to RTS on the host side or something, but I think I got around it this time.

The MSS10 setup should go like this:

Connect via null cable to the serial port:

Username: Whatever
SET PRIV
Password: system
change ipaddress x.x.x.x
change subnet mask 255.x.x.0
change gateway x.x.x.x
change speed 9600
change charsize 8
change stopbits 1
change parity none
change flow control ctsrts
change modem control disabled
change signal check disabled

The MSS10 listens on TCP port 2001

pom.pl :

#!/usr/bin/perl
my $moon = `uname -a`;
print "\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\001" . "Z" . "00" . "\002" . "AA" . "\x1B" . " t" . "$moon";
print "\004";

./pom.pl | nc 2001

Google Mini 1u Supermicro Server

So I picked up a Google Mini 1u server from a local electronics recycling goldmine-of-old-stuff. I’m not a huge Google fanboy by any means, it’s kind of like self-inflicted spyware — or some sort of trap. But I figured this computer looks cool and it would be fun to re-purpose into other tasks.

The machine is pretty old. 250 watt power supply (Ablecom), Supermicro motherboard that has PCI and PCIe-64 bit slots, and a 3Ghz P4 era CPU as I recall. In the future I can see myself swapping in something faster and more power efficient. But I’m not going to worry about that now.

Someone else provided some instructions about how to reset the BIOS as there was a password on it. It’s two half-moon pads near one of the large ICs near the PCI slots. Thanks for the info, that got rid of the password. I ended up mounting two 1TB disks in the thing, which required buying a 2nd right angle SATA power connector and I have a right angle data cable on the way for good measure.

I used a utility knife to carefully cut across the top front of the sticker that covers the entire top of the computer. This is the one with the google logo. I used a dremel tool to cut a straight slot through the security screws so I could remove them with a normal flat blade screwdriver.

Installing CentOS on the thing was the tough part. With the default BIOS revision of 1.1, it didn’t seem to want to boot off of USB. I burned a CD with the CentOS 7 ISO and the initial boot screen would come up but the OS didn’t seem to load. Memtestx86 from that CD just locked up. This was using an external BD-R drive connected via USB. So I downloaded the version 1.1A revision of the firmware and that added much better handling for USB booting. It did wipe out the custom Google Mini splash screen, though. Once the USB thumb drive was connected it was possible to go into the BIOS and set the removable USB device in the boot order. Note — one of my hard drives had some sort of boot block that just gives a cursor and a freeze so that complicated things a tad. There is a setting to slow the blower down which helps with the noise. It’s not as loud as the 3u Supermicro I have so it isn’t much of an issue to me.

Disks are setup with software RAID. I have a 4 port 3ware left over from an old 757.org server and I contemplated getting a 1u 64bit pci riser card so I could put the 3ware card in, but decided against it. I’ll probably regret this at some point in the future but at least the disk IO will be faster.

In the end, it’s up and running CentOS 7, which is kind of gross. It’s this new systemd that most people seem to dislike and they’re doing everything they can to make it look like Windows. I installed OwnCloud to evaluate it for a personal project but realize it’s not what I need and will revert to a long configuration of Apache + mod_dav + LDAP with 389 Identity Server behind it.