Four reasons the Hackaday Superconference 2015 was awesome

Here's what you missed, if you could not go.

Hackaday Superconference 2015 - Badge Hacking Stations

A couple of weeks ago I moved from Florida to the Bay Area. I’m not done unpacking yet. Why? Part of the blame goes to the Hackaday Superconference 2015.

Over 300 members of the hardware-hacking community came together at Dogpatch Studios in San Francisco for two days this past weekend.

The topic? Hardware, Art, Design Creation Challenges.

Chances are, you couldn’t attend. Whether you were or not, here are the four things I saw at the Hackaday Superconference.

Continue Reading »

the martian book review

The Martian (2014)

The Martian by Andy Weir is an engineer’s dream story. The story opens with Mark Watney being stranded on Mars after an accident occurs. The book is a collection of his daily logs on the Martian surface, chronicling the measures he takes to stay alive.

Rarely do I read a fiction book so well thought out, I start solving the problems along with the characters.  Midway through I was excited because I would see Mark’s solution as one of the possible answers in my head. I also found myself invested in what happens to Mark. He is a likeable guy and, at least for me, easily relatable.

One cliché I didn’t care for was the “evil” mission control characters. NASA has struck me as an organization that is pretty level-headed, with most of its decision makers have some engineering background. A few times it seems mission control has lost their mind–like you see in poorly written movies.

That flaw is pretty minor, though, especially compared to the quality of the overall writing.

If you are someone who has a passion for space exploration, interest in going to Mars, and an engineer: The Martian by Andy Weir is a must-read.

Difference between Programming and Native Ports

Why do the Arduino Due and Zero have two USB Ports?

difference between programming and native ports due and zero

When you hear the name “Arduino,” does a picture of the Uno come to mind? While the most popular, this 8-bit based board isn’t the only Arduino available today. There are some other boards available like the Due and recently introduced Zero, which are far more advanced than the humble Uno.

These are 32-bit microcontroller boards that have a very different architecture compared to the relatively straightforward Uno. In fact, one of the most striking differences is that the Due and Zero have two USB ports.

What is the difference between the Programming and Native ports on these more powerful Arduino boards?

Continue Reading »

Build a proper R-2R DAC

Hackaday: Logic Noise

r-2r matrix illustration

Creating real analog outputs from a digital pin is possible when you use an R-2R DAC. What is a DAC? The letters stand for Digital to Analog Converter. This simple DAC is built using resistor. The principle works on voltage dividers. By enabling different combinations of resistors, it is possible to get various voltage levels.

Obviously, such a simple design will have some trade-offs.

The resolution depends on how many resistor steps you include. That is why discrete R-2R networks built on a breadboard have a staggered look. You could add more levels to smooth it out, or there are other options.

This R-2R Logic Noise Post talks about how they work in detail and even includes a section on filtering the output to be less “stepped.”

FleaFPGA Introduction

Create your own chips with this easy to use board


Can’t find the digital chip you need on Mouser or just wish you could make it yourself? With the FleaFPGA board, you can! As a college freshman, we heard rumors of a custom Integrated Circuit (IC) class. Surely what had to be a senior level class, I couldn’t wait until I understood electrical engineering enough that I got to make my own IC!

Two years passed, I was learning Verilog and VHDL in a class titled “Complex Programmable Logic Devices.” In short, CPLD. Those devices were the precursors to today’s modern FPGA devices.

In short, FPGAs, allow you to create your own IC with “software.” The best part? You can quickly reprogram that to fix bugs, add features, or operate completely differently just as fast as you can flash a new sketch into an Arduino Uno.

Introducing the FleaFPGA, a fully functional FPGA board perfect for beginners or veteran chip designers ready to create “chips” on their own.

Continue Reading »

Learn the basics of Acrylic

Make Magazine

Acrylic difference between cast and extruded One of the most popular materials to use with a laser cutter is acrylic. Head over to buy some acrylic from Inventables and you’ll see options for “extruded” or “cast” types. Not sure what that means?

This Make Skill Builder on Acrylic gives the basics on the material. You’ll understand the differences between the two: especially important if you plan to mill or laser cut it. Additionally, there are tips for bending, shaping, and gluing acrylic.

Check out the Acrylic Cheat Sheet on Make.

A Whole New Engineer

A Whole New Engineer (ThreeJoy Associates, Inc., 2014)

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join The Engineering Commons podcast to talk about capacitors on episode 93. I had been a listener of the podcast because I heard about it in this book. A Whole New Engineer looks at the changes are needed in engineering education. My personal interest was to see if there were elements I could apply to the AddOhms Electronics Tutorials I create. Like all aspects of our lives, evoluation is occuring and educaiton is no different. On top of that, traditional education techniques rarely prepare students for live after school.

The traditional weed-out lecture courses and stand-alone research projects are a thing of the past.

The stories about Olin College of Engineering were eye opening. Thinking back to my time at Purdue, I wished I could have been at the foundation of a new curriculum (though, I’m glad I had the one I did.) My eye opener with the Olin example is how it is analogous to the “real world.” Traditional engineering education silos instructor from the student, in much the same way large corporations silo work functions. The idea of breaking down those silos between Instructor (manager) and Student (employee) to achieve an overall goal is very progressive and based on the research provided, rewarding.

Whether you are involved in engineering education or, like me, just have passion for sharing it–I highly recommend this excellent book. Whether if you’re writing tutorials, creating a classroom, putting together a workshop, or even helping out with STEM, there are key tidbits you will pull from this book.

Check out A Whole New Engineer on Amazon.

The Isolated Engineer

crash bang prototyping and Andrew Retallack
This week I am moving! So I asked Andrew from Crash-Bang Prototyping to fill in. While not a tutorial, he has a very unique perspective on engineering, being that he lives in Africa. After reading his outstanding post, make sure you take a look at the excellent AVR/Microcontroller tutorials on his blog.

James and I were talking over e-mail the other day, and he said that he felt isolated living in South Florida. Isolated? You should try living in South Africa, James – Then you’ll know what isolation is!

Not only do we spell “neighbour” incorrectly and watch sports matches that take five days to complete, but we also don’t have overnight shipping from the Digikey or Mouser, or Maker Faire NY, or Solid Con or… a whole lot of other things. So just how lucky are makers who live in the States or Europe or China, and what’s it like living 10,000 miles from Silicon Valley?

Continue Reading »

Learn the difference between laser types
inside a laser diode

via Make:

One of the most versatile tools in a shop or makerspace is a laser cutter. The recently funded Glowforge makes having one in your garage a possibility.

With so much exciting around laser cutters, you might be wonder what is a laser anyway? There are two primary laser types: Gas and Diode.  Jordan Bunker goes into detail in the Make: Skill Builder article, about the difference.

The pictures and diagrams alone are worth the look. The diagram on how a laser diode emits light is one of my favorites. (Actually, I think it is a good general purpose “led/diode diagram.”

Check out “Learn the Difference: Gas and Diode Lasers,” via Make.