Hackaday Superconference 2017 was a blast

Building stuff that matters

Hackaday Superconference 2017

Supplyframe hosted the Hackaday Superconference 2017 in Pasadena the second weekend of November. A couple of years ago I attended the first Supercon in San Francisco. It is amazing how much larger the event has grown. If you have not visited one, here’s a summary of what makes up the conference.

Five elements make up the Superconference: the talks, the learning, the people, the hacking, and the Hackaday Prize.

The Talks

Initially, I planned to write up my thoughts on the top 3 to 5 talks. Here’s the problem: they were all fantastic. Every single presentation. Instead, head over to the Hackaday YouTube channel. Currently, there is not a dedicated playlist. So look for the videos titled “Hackaday 2017.”

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Open Source Hardware Summit 2017 Recap

Open Source Hardware Summit 2017 Quote

This year Denver hosted the 2017 Open Source Hardware Summit. It’s a one-day seminar with talks, demos, and a couple of drinks. The day after the official show Sparkfun and Aleph Objects hosted tours of their facilities. The combination of events made for a fantastic immersion into open source hardware.

There were many talks and demos setup during the summit. Here are three that caught my attention. Please note, this is not to rate or judge the quality of anyone’s work. Simply, a couple of weeks later these are the three talks that stuck with me.

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picoscope 2204a on element14

Previously, I wrote up a hands-on with the PicoScope 2204A. At the time I only spent a few minutes with the device. I used it to “debug” an I2C bus between an Arduino and OLED screen. Since that initial hands-on, I’ve used the PicoScope in my lab. Most notably, I hosted another “hands-on” via an AddOhms Live Stream. I used it for another live stream where I talked about op-amps. Unfortunately, the video isn’t watchable due to some technical difficulties.

However, both of those activities plus debugging a new project I’m working on, gave me a chance to understand this humble USB-based oscilloscope. Now that I’ve held well over a month of bench time with it, I can say I am happy with the 2204A. If you’re looking for a low-cost, but fully featured oscilloscope, give the PicoScope 2204A a consideration. For more details on why I feel that way, click the button below to see my full write review on element14.

Full PicoScope 2204A Review on element14

Appearance:PicoScope 2204A Review on element14
Outlet:element14
Format:Other

What are aluminum polymer capacitors? These are a solid type of capacitor that replaces the liquid electrolyte with a solid polymer material. Sometimes you might hear these capacitors called “organic aluminum.” Technically, they are still “electrolytic” capacitors. However, the colloquial term of “aluminum electrolytic” refers to the traditional wet electrolyte-based capacitors.

In this video, I meet with Amelia Dalton of EE Journal, and we discuss these capacitor types. Mouser and EE Journal developed the video in joint with KEMET. (Previously I talked on Amelia’s Chalk Talk about SSD Capacitors.)

For me, the release of this video is bittersweet. It is one of my last projects before my departure from KEMET. However, I am excited to talk about aluminum polymer capacitors because they represent one of the “newer” technologies when it comes to capacitors.

Difference between Aluminum Polymer Capacitors and Aluminum Electrolytics

As mentioned, the key difference between the capacitor types is the electrolyte. In a traditional aluminum electrolytic, there is an electrolyte that connects the cathode plate of the capacitor to the cathode electrode. In a polymer capacitor, a solid conductive polymer material replaces the wet electrolyte. The most common polymer material is PEDOT. The use of this material provides an exceptionally low ESR which makes the capacitors can handle more ripple current. Also, because there is no electrolyte to “dry up” or “wear out,” the operational lifetime of these capacitors is much longer. Overall, aluminum polymer capacitors are an excellent alternative to traditional electrolytics.

Learn about Aluminum Polymer Capacitors

Can you use voltage dividers as regulators? What if you add a Zener Diode? In this AddOhms episode, I show what happens when you try to power a complex circuit like an ESP8266 with a voltage divider instead of a regulator. (Spoiler: Get a voltage regulator.) This video tutorial is related to a write up I did recently on Zener Diodes. For questions or comments visit the AddOhms Discussion Forum.

Behind the scenes

A significant change for this AddOhms Episode is that I moved from Final Cut Pro X to Premiere Pro. I also shot the entire video in 4K, even though the output is 1080p. Animations were still done as 1080p compositions. One snag I ran into, the color corrections I applied in PPro, didn’t seem to get exported. You might notice when the breadboard is on screen, it has a very slight yellow tint to it.

I’ve been changing how I produce the videos. It’s shortening the cycle time. The key is that I’m not trying to animate every scene. The amount of work involved is just too much. I animate practically every frame. So in a 6-minute video, that’s just too much.

By the way, there are two easter eggs in this episode. Can you find them?

Voltage Dividers as Regulators on YouTube

FleaFPGA Ohm is a crowdsource project worth considering

An awesome crowd source project is live.

FleaFPGA Ohm Prototype with case

Previously,  I wrote a FleaFPGA Introduction. This board was about the size of an Arduino Uno with some GPIO pins, a VGA, USB, SD Card, PS2 Style Port, and a USB Host connector. At the time, the Lattice Mach XO2 provided the base logic. It found some success in the emulation community (*cough* x86 *cough*.) Unlike software emulators, the FPGA emulates the actual digital logic of classic computer ICs. Also known as ASICs.

Fast forward to today, well, this week. Valentin Angelovski is at it again, but this time, with a new and improved board the size of a Raspberry Pi Zero. He’s launched an Indiegogo Campaign for the FleaFPGA Ohm. For $45 (plus a bit for shipping) you can reserve your spot for when these start shipping early next year.

As you might have noticed, I don’t often promote or comment on crowdfunded projects. My experience with crowdfunded projects has not been positive. So what makes the FleaFPGA Ohm different? Well first, I know Valentin well. Granted distance has kept us from meeting face-to-face, we talk at least once a week on IRC. I’ve been eagerly watching his progress with the FleaFPGA Ohm. Second, this isn’t his first hardware project. He’s already sold many of the original FleaFPGA boards. While there is always a risk with crowdfunded campaigns, I think the risk here is minimal–and worthwhile.

If you’re interested in advancing your hardware hacking game, FPGAs are the next step. And I think the FleaFPGA Ohm is a serious option to consider. Since you might be new to FPGAs or Valetin’s projects, I sat down to interview him for this project. (Okay, it was Google Docs, but these questions and answers are real!)

Before continuing, in disclosure, I have backed this project. However, no other endorsement or paid promotion has happened. Below here are actual answers from Valentin to questions I asked (and had.)

Back FleaFPGA Ohm on Indiegogo

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Op Amp Circuits by Bob Pease

TI (Formerly National Semiconductor)
September 2002

TI AN-31 Torn Paper

Op amps are one of the most versatile ICs in electronics. A purely analog device, they can be used for amplification, summing, integration, and a whole host of other circuits. AN-31 from Texas Instruments is 32 pages of op amp circuits. (Note: this document was created before TI acquired National Semiconductor.)

Even more amazing is that the author is Bob Pease. If you never heard of Mr. Pease, please spend a few minutes right now reading this TI page dedicated to him. His contributions to electronics are nearly immeasurable. (Sadly, he was involved in a car accident after attending the funeral of his equally famous engineering friend, Jim Williams.)

Download AN-31 from TI

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Zener diode makes for a lousy regulator

Reference and regulation are not the same thing

zener diode regulator

The Zener diode is often used to create a reference voltage. In tutorials and even college texts, there are mentions of creating a Zener diode based regulator. The idea is that the Zener maintains a known voltage drop. The problem is that current matters. This post looks a quick Zener diode overview and shows what happened when I tried to power a microcontroller using a “Zener diode regulator.”

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Download AddOhms Live iCal Reminder

Sunday September 24, 2017, I will host the 2nd live stream of AddOhms. My first live stream was a test for the technology pieces. I’ve made some refinements and am giving it a second try. For that reason, I’m keeping the topic really simple.

The Agenda for the Live Stream is:

  • Introduction
  • News (3 stories or projects that I found interesting)
  • Op Amps with the XL741
  • Q&A
  • Whatever surprises pop-up.

In the livestream, I’ll be talking about inverting and non-inverting circuits  using an op-amp. But I am not going to use just ANY op-amp. I’ll be using the MASSIVE XL741! (I did a review of Evil Mad Scientist Lab’s XL741 in the past.)

Download AddOhms Live iCal Reminder

Date:September 24, 2017
Time:17:00-18:00 PST
Appearance:Op Amps featuring the XL741 (and Q&A) on AddOhms Live!
Outlet:AddOhms Live
Location:YouTube
Format:Podcast

PicoScope 2204 Review and Hands-On

Initial thoughts on my first hands-on with a USB 10 MHz Scope

picoscope 2204 review

If you need a reason to be an Element 14 member, let me suggest their Road Test program. Companies partner with Element14 to get people to try out their gear. A couple of years ago I got a new microcontroller board. This week I received a new test instrument. Here’s my hands-on Picoscope 2204 review.

The scope is bus powered. With the BNCs and type-B USB connector, it is slightly larger than an external USB hard drive. There is not much weight to the device. It does not feel cheap, just lighter than I expected.

Getting the scope up and running is a breeze. Pico Tech included a CD (or DVD?) to install the software, but I could not find my drive to check it out. Software downloads from Pico Tech’s website work great. It looks like you can even download the software and use it in “Demo mode” if you are curious how it works.

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