About

My humble electronics blog.

When the world famous Commodore C64/C128 were up-to-date ages ago, my dad and I built a sound-sampler add-on that would plug into one of the joystick ports. He’s an EE by profession (now retired), but he strayed into programming machines (robots and other mass production machinery) at a big factory. I think he only accidentally took programming classes at Uni back in the early 70s, but ended up doing just that. Go figure. We found the schematic + software in one of the popular magazines of that era. It was probably named ‘C64’ or something. The source code was printed in there as well, all in HEX numbers with a checksum at the end of the line. My mother was tasked to do the typing ;-)

Several years later, in the day of the famous Atari Mega ST, I was only interested in games. Even later, now we’re in the early 90s, the first usable PC came into my possession. It was powered by the infamous Intel Pentium 90. I don’t count all the other 386SX-16, 486DX-2… chips I used before. Those were the days of MS-DOS, memmaker and emm386.exe (shudder). All I did was playing games, no Internet yet! I started with WfW 3.11, moved to Win95, Win98, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista (it came with my laptop, sorry). There was a short intermission of OS/2 and OS/2-Warp, but IBM failed miserably to get that going.

I had been playing with Linux (SuSE) early on, at least compared to most of the other people around me. I think I started with version 5.x or something. I’m a regular user since 8.0 I guess.

In the early 90’s I was interested in RC cars and together with a friend of mine tried to build a remote telemetry system. I failed miserably ;-) It only worked on a breadboard, and was terribly slow and easily affected by any kind of disturbance you can think of. It was an 8:1 analog multiplexer. The ‘use the next channel’ pulses were sent in-between the data and interpreted by a frequency-to-voltage converter. It was a terribly convoluted design. At that time my dad bought me a used oscilloscope, the Tektronix 314. It is an analog dual channel storage oscilloscope, 10MHz analog bandwidth, and even runs from battery if you need that. For capturing digital signals that an Arduino board may produce is is unfortunately quite useless. The storage capabilities of the old electron tube are quite limited, maybe due to old age. If only I had known of micro-controllers and ADCs back then. There were no electronics classes at school. What a shame. Later I somehow managed to build a score-board for a friend of mine using all TTL logic, LEDs and some NPN transistors. I think I used decimal counter chips with BCD outputs and 7-segment drivers. That’s all hidden in the fog of time now.

Then came a decade basically without actively dealing with electronics, well except for the classes I took at Uni and using oscilloscopes in the lab. But that was more device physics than applied electronics (solid state physics and that kind of stuff). We tinkered with some atmel chips, probably 8051 types, and assembler. I liked the electronics part, but avidly hated assembler.

I’m a physicist by education, but during my time in the lab I strayed into IT and electronics. I was managing the computer infrastructure of our department for several years. We used Win XP clients + a Samba server, webserver, wiki etc. – all running on a HP Proliant DL385 with an external raid-5 array + UPS. It had a whopping 1TB of storage and cost a fortune.

At one time we had a problem with some piezoelectric motors driving translation stages. We should have known before, but it turned out that these thing have terribly fine resolution, but simply cannot be used to repeatedly and reliably position anything. Their step-size varies with temperature, load, condition of the lead-screw, time-of-day, mood, you name it. I cooked up the mechanical parts to add quadrature encoders to these motors. Our machine shop built it. The electronics part was built by the electronics gurus. I think they used an FPGA (or similar) to implement the counters and so forth. That took about 6 months. There were some issues that we just couldn’t resolve quickly and to our satisfaction. The simplest part was to buy an RS232/USB adapter. Just by accident I had come across the Arduino project at that time. There was a constant nagging feeling that I could build the PC interface using just that and resolve all of our issues.

14 days later it was done. All boxed up nicely too ;-)

Nowadays I’m mostly into LEDs. Show me a device with many LEDs and I will probably like it. All of that started when I came across one device that was sold by Sparkfun for about 60$. That seemed overpriced to me and I build my own version of it. You can find it on the projects page if you’re interested. The first prototype PCB was ordered at SeeedStudio. As it happens, they were working on a version of their own as well, which is now known as the RainbowDuino.

I like to solder. Sometimes I buy electronics kits just do some soldering, fully knowing that the finished device will be idly sitting on one of my shelves most of the time. It’s quite addictive and also some form of therapy or ZEN/mediation for me. When I’ve cooked-up a project that I think is worthy and that others might like it as well, I sometimes have an extra batch of PCBs made and offer them on my blog. This is strictly on a non-profit basis and just for fun. I publish all of my projects on the web, free for everybody to use or even abuse – as long as I don’t get blamed/flamed for that of course.

  • For anything related to my DIY KITs, please use the forum!

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