Monday, November 21, 2011

I'm Screwed

     I'm sure everyone has taken apart a broken or otherwise useless electronic gadget. You can get some great knowledge (and sometimes some nice components) by tearing something apart. Something that I've been doing for years is keeping the screws when taking these things apart. I've went into my screw collection countless times over the years. Often, I manage to lose a screw while working with something I want to keep, and having such a varied collection of screws nearly always has something close enough to work. I've used screws that I've had for mounting a power strip / USB extender onto the back of my monitor using the VESA mount screw holes. I've used some of them for my MiniPOV3 project and my power supply. Start a collection and you'll be surprised how many times you'll have exactly what you need.

The dividers should not imply organization

Easy Documentation Organization

     I keep a three ring binder around full of Avery Clear Sheet Protectors to fill with all of my important documents having to do with my tinkering hobby. I store my pages having to do with projects I want to complete, invoices when I order parts, software documentation, datasheets from chips I often work with, and cheat sheets for coding. I usually staple each one together and then put each packet into its own protector. It's a great organization tool whenever I need to reference any documents that I've used before. I hope this tip helps some of you out.

Perfect reference

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beautiful iPhone Protection (for Cheap!)

     I've been through a few different methods of protection for my Verizon iPhone 4 and I finally found the one I'm sticking with. Originally I bought a ZAGG invisibleSHIELD because I had one for my 2nd generation iPod Touch and loved it. Unfortunately, the iPhone model was not of the same quality as the old protectors. As my phone became hot from being in my pocket next to my body, the screen protector would lose its grip and slide off the phone and become covered in pocket fuzz. Essentially this product was trash. Afterwards, I bought a Wrangler Case by IvySkin and, despite its large size, it really impressed me. It has a built-in piece of glass that covers the screen. At first I really liked liked the design and supreme protection. Over time, the glass insert became loose and would slide around within the case. Also, the bulkiness of the case would prevent finger taps on the bottom and sides of the screen. After a while, I became fed up with it and wanted something new.

     My girlfriend had told me about the elago S4 Slim Fit Case for iPhone 4 (Glossy, Piano Black) and I was impressed. I really liked how its near impossible to tell that there's even a case on the phone. It looks like it was designed by Apple and is very simple to put on and take off. Plus it's only $10! The only thing I'm put off by is that my particular model is the high gloss coating model so that it's very fingerprint prone and very slippery on all materials. I plan on buying one of the matte models soon to see if I like it any better (like this model for instance: elago S4 Slim Fit Case for iPhone 4 (Matte, SF Gray)).

     Keep in mind that the elago cases do not include screen protectors (although they do include a protector for the Apple logo on the back of the phone because it is open to the environment). I would definitely recommend the splash Masque Clear Screen Protector for iPhone 4 to buy with it. It is a very smooth material so it doesn't feel any different than the glass alone. A three pack of cases isn't bad for $11. I did have trouble installing mine the first time so here's a fantastic tip to flawlessly apply the screen protector -- apply it in a humid bathroom. That's right, go into your bathroom and turn the hot water on until the mirrors fog up. Why you ask? Well, when the air is humid there is very little dust floating around. Clean the screen very well with the included cleaning cloth and apply the screen protector (it's just like a sticker) without worries of dust getting between the screen and protector. I was amazed by how well this worked. I had never imagined to do this before but it's simple and effective.

Simple, yet sexy

Leave a comment if you've had any experience with the above cases or have your own personal favorite.

I'm Back!

     Thanks to Thanksgiving break, I finally have time to update my blog with the projects that I've worked on but haven't had any time to write proper posts about. I've assembled a MiniPOV3 from Adafruit and a Bus Pirate v3.5 from Dangerous Prototypes. I've also built a variable power supply that wasn't entirely successful. Along with those projects, I want to explain how I keep all of my electronics documents organized and my current favorite way of protecting my iPhone (on the cheap). Stay tuned for all these blog posts (and hopefully more) before Thanksgiving break ends this upcoming weekend.

Power Supply, Bus Pirate v3.5, and MiniPOV3

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bus Pirate v4 Assembly

     I got lucky enough to get a free PCB from Dangerous Prototypes a little over a month ago. I finally finished assembling it last night. It was my first time soldering SMD components, but it was worth it. I also got to use my homemade hotplate for the first time with no problems. I used this solder paste. I really only used the hotplate for the TQFP (Thin Quad Flat Pack) PIC chip and it worked out very nicely. The rest of the components I hand soldered with a bunch of time, patience, and flux.

     I ordered all my parts from I ran into a problem with their website that really cost me a great deal of time. I ordered (what I thought was) a 10K resistor array. The website stated that it was a 10K array so I put it in my order. When I finally got the part, I was testing it with my multimeter when I realized it certainly wasn't 10K. Turns out they sent me a 100K resister array. I called their customer service number and told them that I received the wrong part and that I am ordering a few more components and I'd like them to check and make sure the parts weren't mislabeled. When I recieved my order a few days later, I got a few more 100K resistor networks. I checked the website and found the problem -- although it was under the title 10Kohm resisitor network, the part number was "CR0603-JW-104ELF". 104, clearly a 100K part. After calling them again they corrected the problem and sent me more 10K resistor networks than I'd ever need. Although customer service was very nice each time I called, make sure to really check what you think you're ordering before you place your order.

     The biggest problem is that, due to my excitement of finally getting a PCB coupon code, I ordered the Bus Pirate v4 -- a new prototype version meant for developers. Because nothing for this project is set in stone, I'm having a hard time finding information about it. I have a programmer, but I don't even know which bootloader I am supposed to use. If anybody has any information about programming this chip, let me know. Also, if a developer happens to want this board, I can sell it at cost of the components -- learning to solder it was worth it in itself.

     I know I'll be getting a user-friendly Bus Pirate v3 with my next PCB code.

Finished and powered on

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Storage Container Shelving System

     The three weeks of spare time I had between vacationing in Ocean City, Maryland and Oregon, I spent my time designing and building a storage box for these storage containers. These have been on sale all Summer (although they were $3.99 each when I bought six for myself). They are rather cheaply made, but perfect for holding electronic components and I bet you won't be able to find anything comparable for cheaper, especially because you'll want to buy a bunch of them because they're so handy. I had them stacked in my room and it was a bear to pick through each of them to find the container I wanted, so I knew I had to build a set of shelves for them. While thinking about the design, I came up with the idea to put a lidded box on top of the shelving system. It will replace the wooden box I made in 7th grade woodshop that wasn't my best work. I documented my build by taking pictures and will go through the process after the break.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Crater Lake National Park

     I am currently on a ten day vacation in Eugene, Oregon visiting with my girlfriend's aunt, uncle, and cousin. From August 2nd to the 4th, we visited Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. It is a 20.6 square mile lake formed from when the volcano, Mount Mazama, blew its top around 7,700 years ago. It has beautiful blue water that comes solely from melting snow runoff. Inside the lake, Wizard Island sits. It is another volcano situated inside Mount Mazama's caldera. Along with the island, the Old Man of the Lake and the Phantom Ship are key points. The Old Man of the Lake is a large tree that floats vertically in the water with only the top few feet exposed. It freely floats around the lake. Unfortunately, it is stuck near Wizard Island and will stay there until a storm moves it away. The Phantom Ship is a rock outcropping in the lake that appears to be a schooner from a distance. See this wikipedia article for more information. I'll attach all the media from my trip below.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Google Calendar/Contact Integration with iPhone

     As I was exploring Google's projects the other day I happened to stumble upon some information regarding the syncing of Google Calendars and Contacts to the iPhone. I had no idea that this was integrated into the iOS so well. The guide for using Google Sync with iOS is right here. After going through that simple process, I transferred the calendar events I had on my iPhone to Google Calendar (I didn't have many so I just went through one-by-one and changed them). I used this simple walkthrough to back up my iPhone contacts through iTunes, then I imported them at Google Contacts. After both of those were mirrored online, I went ahead and deleted the original copies off my phone. Now my contacts and calendar events are easily accessible through an online interface and always kept up to date. At least this will hold me over until iCloud comes around...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Newegg Computer Combo Assembly

     My girlfriend's mother was in need of a new computer. Although she only uses it to play Freecell and search the web, her HP desktop from 2003 wasn't cutting it. Since her demands were so low, I knew it wouldn't be worth spending much money on a new computer so I looked around for a good deal. I came along this computer kit from Newegg and figured it was everything she needed. It has decent specs, an Intel processor (personal preference), and was cheap. I have a copy of Windows 7 to use on it, and she recently replaced her monitor so it wasn't worth buying something where those were included. I had never built a computer from scratch, but have always wanted to, so that was extra incentive.

     Although it was my first time, it was a painless build. Everything went together fine in the kit and in two hours, I had a working computer (including Windows 7 install time). Everything is working fine together, but I do have some complaints. First off, the case does feel very cheap, but it is $40 with power supply included, so that's expected. It also didn't include any fans for the case, so I am going to add an exhaust fan tonight. My other complaint is the CPU fan; it just snaps onto the mother board and feels as though it will fall off, which is definitely not something that anybody wants to happen. Hopefully it holds up and runs for eight more years like her last one...

I didn't take many pictures (because I was too anxious to see it power up)

Monday, June 20, 2011

TI FRAM MSP-EXP430 Overview

     I just received my MSP-EXP430FR5739 Experimenter Board from Texas Instruments. I ordered it Friday morning and got it today (Monday). I went ahead and powered it up and messed around with the demo application. See the following video for an overview of the demo application and check after the break for pictures of the unboxing and included documentation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Homemade PID Controlled Hotplate

     Hot on the heels of my last hack (no pun intended), is my latest project, a PID (proportional - integral - derivative) controlled hotplate. The inspiration for this project came from this post on I choose to build it because I wanted to increase my knowledge on PID controllers and also wanted to get into soldering surface mount components. I got lucky and got all of the components for this project for under $20. Check out after the break for the build details.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Linksys LED Matrix

     My first electronics project of the summer is now finished. Overall, it didn't take me too long to complete, and I'm very pleased with the results. Watch this video overview and check after the break for all the juicy details.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Multimeter Fuse Hack

     Yesterday, while working on my Linksys LED Matrix, I blew the 500mA fuse protecting my cheap Cen-Tech multimeter. Unfortunately, I did not have another 5x20mm fuse in that rating, but I did have a few 6x30mm 500mA 250V fuses. Luckily, I had just bought some inline 6x30mm fuse holders for another project I'm working on and hacked my multimeter into a working state in no time.
Just enough room behind the LCD to fit the fuse holder

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Linksys LED Matrix (Intro)

     I have finally began working on my first electronics project this Summer. It all started from a broken Linksys 5 port switch that I got many months ago. After removing the front sticker, I discovered that there was many more holes in the front of the case then the holes that were being used in the working switch. I knew that it would be a perfect case for a LED matrix, so I starting scouring the internet on how to control one (I think this idea is the reason I finally caved in and bought an Arduino). Unfortunately, the holes on the switch are only 3 LEDs high, so I couldn't use it for displaying text like I originally planned. The idea that I came up with was to use the case for a "logarithmic bar graph display." I had a AN6884 chip and perfboard that I purchased from my favorite electronic component store and I never used. I also had a bag full of 3mm green LEDs that I got from eBay for this project.

Simple test circuit from AN6884 datasheet application circuit

Flower Garden & Border

     My girlfriend has a small garden area behind her house that used to have plants, but it hasn't been touched in years and was overgrown and needed some TLC. We went ahead and bought some plants, flowers, and ground cover to fill the area in. After removing the old plants and wooden border and tilling the soil a little, we started placing the plants in the way that we thought would look the best.

After spending a couple nights working, we have the following to show for it :

Garden Soaker Hose Tip

     The last picture of my first gardening post showed the soaker hose haphazardly placed in the boxes. To have the ability to mow around the boxes, the hoses would need to be disconnected, so placing the hoses nicely would be ideal. We decided that we would semi-permanently place the hoses in the garden boxes with wire... Until I came up with the following idea:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Micro SD Card Keychain Dissasembly

Figured I'd share a tip for anyone that has one of these keychain card readers :

DVD Rack

     My most recent project came about after a trip to Ikea. I've always read about people hackking their purchases from Ikea, but I've never been there. When I saw these wall mountable DVD/CD racks for $5 each, I went ahead and bought two (see pictures at the bottom) At the time, I had no intentions of modifying them, but  I realized I had no convenient place to mount them. They are designed to hold the cases against the wall, so I knew I had to do something to get them working.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


     It's funny how my first completed project this Summer has nothing at all to do with electronics.


     I figure I would introduce myself as this is my first blog post. I started this blog a few months ago during my 4th semester at Penn state studying electrical engineering and planned on only doing electronics related posts. I got so busy with school that I had no time to work on other projects, so I, of course, didn't blog. Now it's my summer vacation and I have decided I'm going to blog about every project I accomplish - electronics related or not. Due to my lack of time, but not lack of ideas, I should have a busy summer ahead of me. Stay tuned by subscribing to my RSS feed!