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


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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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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5 Voltage divider circuits that go beyond dividing

voltage divider circuits

Here are some ideas of what you can do with the humble voltage divider. This elementary circuit has a few inventive uses. To be upfront, one of these uses is NOT as a voltage regulator. If you need a voltage regulated, get a voltage regulator! At some point or another, I’ve built all five of these voltage divider circuits. For me, the voltage level shifter is the most common.

  1. Measure Battery Voltage
  2. Signal Level Shifter
  3. Reference Voltage
  4. R-2R Ladder
  5. One Analog Input with Many Buttons

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Pi Cap Hands On Review

My first impressions of a Raspberry Pi capacitive touch hat

Pi Cap Review

The Pi Cap adds capacitive touch buttons to your Raspberry Pi. Bare Conductive was kind enough to send me one. I do not have a project in mind right now, so here are my first impressions.

What is the Pi Cap?

Arduino tends to call daughter cards shields, while the Raspberry Pi community calls them hats. The Pi Cap is a hat. It plugs into the GPIO header of a Raspberry Pi and provides 13 capacitive touch pads. There is a traditional push button, an LED, and a prototyping area. While the Pi Cap does consume all of the GPIO pins, several are broken out near the GPIO header.

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Aeroscope Review

Can a Bluetooth Scope replace the one on your bench?

Aeroscope Review

Previously, I reviewed the smartphone DMM, Mooshimeter. It is a great meter. One feature I didn’t spend much time on in my review was the ability to graph. Some see it as an “oscilloscope alternative.” The past couple of weeks, I’ve been using Aeroscope. It is a Bluetooth-based oscilloscope about the size of an older active probe. The Aeroscope runs $199 direct from Aeroscope Labs. The question I address in this Aeroscope review: is it better to buy this, a USB-based, or standalone scope for about the same money. How does it measure up?

My Aeroscope review looks at the specifications, the App that runs it and breaks down the key features. Let’s probe deeper.

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PWM a 3-pin PC fan with an Arduino

Note: 4-pin fans already have a PWM signal

Aeroscope Measuring a Fan

A question came up on IRC regarding how to PWM a 3-pin PC fan with an Arduino using analogWrite(). Controlling the fan was seemingly straightforward. The problem was that the hall effect sensor, or TACH signal, was incredibly noisy. The noise made it impossible to measure the fan’s rotation. Working through the question, I found three issues to tackle:

  1. You need to use a PNP transistor
  2. Filter capacitors help
  3. Create a non-blocking RPM measurement (with millis())

This post addresses all three issues regarding how to PWM a 3-pin PC fan with an Arduino.

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During #22 of the Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic meetup, I discussed Oscilloscopes. (Previously James talked about capacitors.) In the presentation, I broke down the internals of an oscilloscope. The presentation started off with a block diagram. Then I discussed the main components: vertical amplifier, A/D, memory controller, some of the computer side stuff, and the keynote was on triggering.

The trigger circuit of an oscilloscope fascinated me since very early in my HP/Agilent career. When I saw trigger modes like Pulse, Violation, Rise Time, and “Runt,” I thought: Wow, this must be the most complicated circuit in the scope! While it isn’t trivial, it very clever how just a few pieces of (relatively) simple hardware drive one of the most important aspects of a digital scope.

Download Slides

Rick Altherr also gave an excellent talk on ECUs and their sensors. (I always thought ECU only meant engine control unit. His talk helped me understand why that isn’t really the case anymore!) It was great to learn about the combination of the engine mechanics with the electronics that control it. !)

See Rick’s Slides

Raspberry Pi Startup Script Tutorial

Part 3: Pi Soft Power Controller, what to put on the Pi

raspberry pi startup script

The last couple of weeks I have been making progress and posts on my RetroPie build. I’m putting a Raspberry Pi inside of an actual SNES (well Super Famicom). Part 1 covered the schematic for a Soft Power Controller. In Part 2 I broke down the RPSPC state machine. This 3rd and final post of the series is a Raspberry Pi startup script tutorial. It covers how to make scripts run at startup and shutdown.

When I started researching how to make Raspbian run a script at startup and shutdown, I found a ton of links and questions asking for help. None of them helpful. Why? Because they were wrong. At least, they are now.

/etc/rc.d doesn’t matter!

It turns out, Raspbian Jessie does not use SysV for init (anymore). So it does not matter what you scripts you put in /etc/rc.d. Pretty simple but missed by many!

Here is a correct Raspberry Pi Startup Script Tutorial.

The Key is systemd

Once I started researching how to make systemd do what I wanted, new problems emerged. The syntax for systemd is not as straightforward as I first thought. Thanks to readers, I was pointed towards the RedHat systemd manual. After reviewing it, I was able to create a service that runs at startup and shutdown.

In the end, I was unable to prevent this process from running during reboot. There seem to be some more layers to make sure systemd knows the difference. In the end, I decided it was not necessary to avoid the reboot.

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