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December 2014 - Mike Seiler, MSEE
Adventures in Engineering Trade-Offs

Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Quick and Dirty PCB Production Technique

Back in my teens, I experimented with etching my own PCBs.  I would draw the circuit with a permanent marker.  The thick ink traces acted as a etch resist.

The 21st century  upgrade to this technology is the toner transfer method.  You print your PCB on a piece of paper.  Then you use a clothing iron to transfer the toner from the paper to a copper board.  The toner acts as a etch resist and you etch away the rest of the copper using the same chemical process I used decades earlier.

So, how well does this work?

I joined a class given at the Solid State Depot to find out. The instructor was John English and he has the project on github at
https://github.com/johnisenglish/ssd_blinky

We built up the board, but could not get it programmed within the time limits of the class.  So, it sat, collecting dust for months until I had the time to have another go at it because I wanted a Christmas mood light project.

It turned out that  in order to get the ISP (In System Programmer) to work, I need to fix a trace routing mistake.  Specifically, I cut the trace show below the “e” of “Cut Trace” in the picture.  In place of the cut trace, I ran a fine green wire from point 1 to point 2.  By the way, the wire is made with special insulation that melts cleanly when heated with solder.  I’ve not been able to locate more of this handy wire in over a decade.

SSDBlinkySm

Once I got board debugged, I decided that the RGB light would make a great mood light.  Sure, you can get mood lights cheaply from eBay, but I wanted to program a mood light with my own artistic flair. Specifically, I wanted to explore the balance between randomness and predictability for the perfect hypnotic effect.

Fortunately, the Arduino IDE has been extended to work with the blank chip used in this project. Programming was done over the ISP interface once the board was debugged

Because the Atmel 2586 AVR chip only had two timers and a RGB LED suggests the need three timers, I decided to do the pulse width modulation entirely in software.

I wish that I could show the arduino wiring code with all the pretty color enhanced highlights from the arduino IDE.  I was aiming to create a hypnotic, flickering mood light.

/*
RGB Mood light using SSD Blinky board – Mike Seiler
*/

#define GREEN_LED PB0 // Green LED
#define BLUE_LED PB1 // Blue LED
#define RED_LED PB4 // Red LED
#define UP 1 // Increase pulse width
#define HOLD 0 // keep pulse width the same
#define DOWN -1 // decrease pulse width
// randomly choose to increase, hold or decrease pulse width.
// this creates flickering fades of one color into another.
unsigned short color_direction( unsigned short direction){
long val;
val = random()%8;
if (val==0) direction = UP;
if (val==1) direction = HOLD;
if (val==2) direction = DOWN;
// Serial.println(direction);
return (direction);
}

// standard arduino function
void setup() {
// initialize serial and wait for port to open:
Serial.begin(9600); // for testing code

DDRB |= (1 << GREEN_LED); // LED green Pin set to output
DDRB |= (1 << RED_LED); // LED red Pin set to output
DDRB |= (1 << BLUE_LED); // LED blue Pin set to output

// send an intro:
Serial.println(“\n\nMood light test:”);
Serial.println();
}

void loop() {
unsigned short red_direction=1, green_direction=1, blue_direction=1;
unsigned short red_level=40, green_level=1, blue_level=20;  // initial values
char teststring[20];

while(1) // do forever
{
red_direction = color_direction(red_direction); // randomly change red pulse width
red_level += red_direction;
if (red_level > 252 ) red_direction = DOWN; // “bounce” off limits
if (red_level < 3) red_direction = UP;

green_direction = color_direction(green_direction); // randomly change green pulse width
green_level += green_direction;
if (green_level > 252 ) green_direction = DOWN; // “bounce” off limits
if (green_level < 3) green_direction = UP;

blue_direction = color_direction(blue_direction);// randomly change blue pulse width
blue_level += blue_direction;
if (blue_level > 252 ) blue_direction = DOWN; // “bounce” off limits
if (blue_level < 3) blue_direction = UP;

sprintf(teststring, “%d %d %d”,red_level,green_level,blue_level); // for testing
Serial.println(teststring);
delay(100);
}
}

 

 

 

The Profound Implication of Moore’s Law

To be sure, Ray Kurzweil has built an entire career riding the leading edge of Moore’s Law. He does a better job than I ever could of expounding on it’s significance.

However, let me add my two cent’s worth.

It has been hypothesized that there is a direct relationship between our civilization energy consumption, and continued population growth. In short, energy, not food, fuels our population growth. (Aside: low cost energy makes it easier to produce food cheaply.) http://www.resilience.org/stories/2009-04-20/peak-people-interrelationship-between-population-growth-and-energy-resources

There is concern that once we pass “peak energy” that we will see massive depopulation as our energy supply dwindles. (Now that can’t be good.)

I’d like to propose that Moore’s law may come to our rescue… at least for a while. You see, not only do computers become more efficient as a byproduct of their increasing capacity – but this increased efficiency spreads into the rest of our environment. As a minor example, cars are more efficient in part because of the computers they now contain. However the current best example is how smart phones make all of us more efficient in countless ways.

However, the tend of every faster, smaller, cheaper computers making us more efficient is just getting started. The next few years will see an explosion of the “Internet of things.” (IoT) The IoT means that or things will gradually become more and more interconneted and intelligent.

What’s the driving force for this trend? Efficiency and/or convenience – of course! As our environment becomes more responsive to us (because it is intelligent) it will further make us efficient, which will save time, money, and most importantly, energy.

This increased energy efficiency will delay the day that “peak energy” exerts a downward pressure on economies and population. Thus, Moore’s Law may delay the day this civilization runs out of energy and with that, the ability to feed ourselves.

P.S. Yes, I can hear the naysayers asking, “What about super intelligent machines taking over everything?” Let me just add that to my list of subjects for a further blog post.

This is the Golden Age of Electronic Tinkering

Moore’s Law is an observation that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years. Or put another way, it will cost half as much for a given number of transistors every two years.

In the 3+ decades that I’ve observed the electronics industry in, I continue to be amazed at how Moore’s Law has profound implications for… just about everything. Now, this statement deserves it’s own blog post, but let me stay on point and give an example of how it has made electronic tinkering so much fun.

Case in point

Ordered upconverter from ebay last April because it was so cheap, I wanted to have one handy because I might need one some day.

Also, got LiPo battery, holder and charger from Sparkfun because it might be useful some day.

At the Solid State Depot, I saw Santa hat with RGB LED lights.

I had just happened to have just programmed a hypnotic RGB mood light on a PCB.  Now could I make this all portable?

Bada bing, bada boom – I hooked up the charger and upconverter to the LiPo battery so I could power the RGB LED mood light PCB.  Almost instantly, I had a very useful rechargeable project I could slide into the brim of a Santa hat.

As a final thought, I should mention that Moore’s law is gradually taking over areas beyond computers.  Audio, photography and telephony have already succumbed.  Transportation, and various areas of expertise appear to be next.