As a kid, I got the book “Upgrading and Repairing PCs.” (Now in its 22nd edition.) It was the first book to explain to me the PC architecture. I considered, how were there so few pins on an AT-style keyboard connector when there were 101 keys on the keyboard? That is when I first learned about the keyboard matrix.
The keyboard matrix itself did not amaze me, but instead the idea there was an entirely separate 8-bit microcontroller inside of the keyboard. Early keyboards may have used the P8049AH, which, there is still some stock available to purchase. I was fascinated with the idea an entire computer was necessary to run the keyboard, to use my “real” computer. Why did it take something as complicated as a microcontroller?
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.
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.”
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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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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.”
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:
News (3 stories or projects that I found interesting)
Op Amps with the XL741
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.)