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They are bringing back tubes

November 6, 2012 5:50 pm | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Yes, tubes are coming back. No, not the thermionic space bottles of my youth. These are a different kind of tube. Made of small bits of graphene. Carbon nanotubes. IBM reports on their progress in the area. And it is amazing.

Kickstarter, HP calculators, and PCB land patterns, oh my!

October 29, 2012 5:27 pm | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Gabriel of Gabotronics asked me to promote his kickstarter project as time was running out and he had not yet met his goal. Due to some technical difficulties I was unable to get to the project promotion until today. Sorry Gabriel. But Gabriel is not sorry.

Power up

October 22, 2012 9:36 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

As the weeks and months go by I am going to be doing a number of hands-on projects. OSH Park will be making boards for those projects available for those of you who want to build something. But it does no good to build something if you don't have power to power it.


Preparing for the wrong catastrophe

October 17, 2012 9:26 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I was excited by a report at ECN saying that the world matched the hottest September temperature again this past September. Well that got me to thinking. CO2 is still rising and hot temperatures are only being matched? Doesn't the theory run - more CO2 makes the climate hotter? What happened?

Filling the gap

October 15, 2012 1:53 pm | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Graphene has been getting a lot of press lately touting it as the electronics material of the future. It is a strong single-layer material with high electron mobility. All good things for a semiconductor material.But single-layer graphene lacks something very important for a semiconductor material: a band gap.

Computer-generated art that doesn't look computer-generated

October 10, 2012 10:09 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I went to a city wide art show this last weekend and ran into the most marvelous artists who does computer generated art that doesn't look like computer generated art - at least not the generic stuff you so often see. His name is Barry Reithmeier. He has a feel for the medium. He uses a tool called Bryce which is currently available for free.

Solder wicki

October 8, 2012 11:31 am | by M. Simon | Articles | Comments

I like to do projects. I like to do projects that involve soldering. These days that means surface mount. And therein lies a tale. I design my own boards and get them produced by OSH Park they do great work. I try to make the boards easy to solder. To see the little bits when I do do the soldering I use a pair of Foster Grants with 3.25 magnification...

A roundup

October 3, 2012 9:01 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Gabtronicis has updated their micro e-scopes. You may recall I did an article on them a while back. They also have a Kickstarter project to raise money to do more interesting things. Gabriel (the "Gab" of Gabtronics) likes Atmel XMEGA microcontrollers. Daishinku Corporation (KDS) has been very helpful to me with some projects I'm working on...


A flywheel in the ointment

October 1, 2012 8:51 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I have been big on flywheels for electrical energy storage for quite some time. So it was quite a disappointment to me to hear that high tech flywheel company Beacon Power did a Solyndra and reneged on a government loan because it could not finance its debts from income.

Your dollars are blowing in the wind and burning in the sun

September 19, 2012 10:41 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

My last column on alternative energy, A blow to wind energy, evoked more than a few complaints. For an engineering magazine writer a number of people thought that I was light on the numbers. So lets do some numbers. For that we will need a baseline. What is the cost of electrical energy in America these days? The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average cost of electricity in the US is 13.5cents per kilowatt hour.

Carbon-based logic

September 18, 2012 9:14 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Physics World reports some spectacular advances in turning graphene-based semiconductors into real-world logic chips. Graphene will do some real good for us logic guys because of its carrier mobility. It is over 140 times that of silicon. Plus its heat conductivity is about 10x that of metals like copper and aluminum, and its resistivity is about 2/3rds that of copper at room temperature.

Doing the math

September 14, 2012 9:49 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

For all you random number lovers there is some excellent documentation on the www about linear feed back shift registers. LFSRs are a way to produce quasi random numbers without too much effort. Why quasi random? Well one number is excluded (all ones or all zeroes) depending in whether you use the XNOR or XOR function for computing your random number.

Stack architecture

September 7, 2012 9:11 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I have been interested in computers with stack architectures for a long time. I wrote a bit about one of the latest versions at ECN a while back: Testing The GA144 Eval Board. For those of you not familiar with the subject I thought it might be a good idea to present some resource material.


Hit them with a lightning bolt

September 5, 2012 3:22 pm | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

As some of you may remember, I was having some trouble with the Atmel programming tools. Their Studio 6 assembler and simulator are excellent. But their chip programmers leave one or two things to be desired. Well I'm going to do the usual hardware guy solution. I'm going to hit the pins used for programming with lightning bolts.

A blow to wind energy

September 4, 2012 10:13 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

My local paper says that the wind energy business is likely to slow down in 2013. They explain that it will be bad for a local manufacturer that makes parts for the turbines and who also makes machines to make the parts. When you make 10 ton hubs for the turbines it is best to make them as close to the installation site as possible. Otherwise the shipping costs can ruin your profits.

I ran across a few things

August 29, 2012 11:37 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I have started a number of new projects. One of them is designing a simple Forth for the ARM processor. To do that I needed a simple guide to the ARM Assembly language. I like this one written by Peter Knaggs and Stephen Welsh. Peter is quite active in the Forth community, but that was just a coincidence (I'm a big Forth fan in case you didn't know).

Reality strikes

August 20, 2012 9:43 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Life can be interesting - way more interesting than I like. I downloaded the driver for the Adafruit programmer I bought. I installed the driver required and I got stuck. My PC doesn't seem to recognize the programmer. Since the "power good light" is controlled by a pin on the programmer according to the schematic, I plugged in the board I wanted to program (MCU10 Developer)...

A few delays

August 13, 2012 8:59 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Those of you who have been following along with my adventures with the Atmel ATtiny10 at A tiny bit of work and I found a bug, will know that I encountered some problems with the Atmel programmer I bought from Mouser. So I started in last week-end building the Adafruit programmer that I thought would solve my problems. But I ran into a snag.

I found a bug

August 3, 2012 11:46 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Last week I was discussing a board I designed to do development (hardware and software) of the Atmel ATTiny10 microprocessor. I had gotten the board built and was ready to write some software in assembler (my favorite way of writing programs next to writing them in Forth). So I wrote a very simple program that just turned on the internal pull up resistors on three of the pins.

A tiny bit of work

July 27, 2012 9:29 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I'm working on a project that is using the Atmel ATTiny10 microprocessor. The processor is a cute little device with 4 I/O pins, 1,000 bytes of flash and 32 bytes of RAM not counting processor registers some of which could be used as RAM in a pinch. In order to do the development I bought an AVRISP mkII programmer which comes with version 4 of the software development tools.

I put my finger on it

July 12, 2012 8:52 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Way back in the Dark Ages (the late '70s) I was troubleshooting a military radio that had a phase locked loop (PLL) BFO. I couldn't get it to lock properly. The previous version of the loop worked fine, but the new layout was noisy. I was called in as a consultant because the regulars at the company had worked for six months on the problem and were unable to resolve it.

Getting kitted up

June 19, 2012 10:48 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

If you are interested in going into the kit business, Jameco has a service for you. The process for getting your kit made is simple. You submit your kit idea to their forum and if it gets enough votes Jameco will go into production with your design. Kind of like Kickstarter. They are partial to parts in the Jameco catalog of course, but it is not a requirement.

Hacking space

June 12, 2012 9:22 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Brent at Talk-Polywell (a nuclear fusion board) left a link there to a list of Maker/Hacker spaces involved in developing equipment for use in space. Here is the list: Hackers In Space. Let me add that it is not just an American phenomenon. One of the spaces on the list is in China. They are focusing on food production in limited spaces.

Finding a board supplier

June 7, 2012 8:31 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I'm having a little difficulty with my board supplier. Lead times are lengthening which is putting my schedules for some projects in trouble. The market for the PCB service I'm using/looking for is kind of new and obviously things haven't settled out. And what is the service? Small volumes - 1 to 25 pieces.

Micro micros

May 29, 2012 12:16 pm | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Atmel has some very neat microprocessors in a 6-pin SOT package. Sixteen-bit processors with eight-bit internal buses. About sixty-eight cents in onesies for the high-end version. It operates on 1.8 to 5.5 volts using milliamps to microamps depending. And up to 8MHz clock speed at full crank.

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