[Ladyada's] thoughts on quick-turn and small-run PCB houses

So you’ve mastered your PCB layout software, and it’s time to make the board. But if you don’t want to etch your own you’ve got to decided where to have it fabricated. There’s a slew of services out there, most of which you cannot afford, but the short list of those you can is still pretty long. We think this set of PCB fabrication house reviews will help you make your choice.

[Ladyada] — aka [Limor Fried] — knows what she’s talking about. She owns Adafruit Industries and has done the lion’s share of designing the many kits and items they sell. If you’re going to charge money for something it better work right, and that involves lots of prototypes. But even if you don’t need a quick turn-around or numerous testing boards the post is helpful as she also covers some of the batch producers we’re already familiar with. These include DorkBot PDX and BatchPCB to name a couple.

[via Reddit]

Keep an eye on your palatial estate with this solar powered WiFi cam

If you’re expecting the serfs to hop the fence with pitch forks and torches you may want to employ a surveillance system. WiFi cameras are a cheap way of doing this, but you’ll need power. [CheapGuitar] decided not to run extension cords, and instead added solar power to his wireless camera. The solar panels are easy to spot in this image, but you’ll have to look close to see the camera.

He already had everything on hand, and this included a cheap WiFi camera which runs on 5V. To weatherproof it he used a plastic sandwich meat container. This is actually one of our favorite project enclosures, we used it for our door-bell button garage door lock. [CheapGuitar] painted it black to help keep it hidden after cutting a hole in the lid for the camera lens. Under the solar panels you’ll find a 12V car battery which uses a USB car charger to regulate voltage for the camera. Each of the panels is a 5W trickle charger and they’re designed to top off deep cycle batteries. The entire thing is cleverly hidden behind his existing landscaping.

[via Reddit]

Traffic signal controller pulls data over WiFi

[Travis Brown] just published a post about the traffic light controller he built. His number one goal was to make the device wireless (except for AC power) and he achieved this by using a WiFi shield for his Arduino. But there is also a separate board that provides a way for the chip to switch the AC lights.

He works for a web hosting company, and the boss wanted a fun way to display the status of the servers among other things. He chose to use the WiServer library which controls the CoperHead WiFi Shield and gives him the ability to serve simple web pages from the Arduino. When power is applied the sketch automatically connects to the AP and starts polling the company’s API for status data. If you’re not within eyesight of the traffic lights you can log into the web server and check that way.

We think [Travis] did a great job of explaining his code, and we applaud him for making proper use of the watchdog timer (something we don’t see in very many projects). This joins the pile of traffic-light display devices we’ve seen around here. We still don’t know where people are getting their hands on the things.

[Read more...]

Mantis9 PCB mill

This is the Mantis9 PCB mill. It’s the first time we’ve featured the project, but it’s already well known by some as it keeps popping up in the comments for other CNC mill projects. Yes, it’s made out of wood — which some frown upon — but we’re happy with the build instructions and the especially the price tag (parts as low as $85).

We did feature an earlier revision of the hardware back in 2010. Subsequent versions changed the frame to use an open-front design, but it’s the build techniques that saw the biggest evolution. The problem was getting the holes for the parallel rods to align accurately. In the end it’s a simple operation that solves the problem; clamp both boards together and drill the holes at the same time. A drill press is used for all of the fabrication, ensuring that the holes are perpendicular to the surface of the boards. From there the rods are given some bronze bushings and pressed into place. Only then are the platforms secured to the bushings using epoxy. This is to ensure that the bushings don’t bind from poor alignment. We think it should end up having less play in it than other builds that use drawer slides.

Check out a PCB milling run in the clip after the break.

[Read more...]

MyHDL Python programming option for FPGA

MyHDL is a Python module that brings FPGA programming into the Python environment. [Christopher Felton] tipped us off about a simple tutorial he just finished that gives an overview of how the module is used.

You may remember hearing about PyCPU a couple days ago which can run very simple Python code on a FPGA. There was a healthy discussion in the comments section comparing PyCPU and MyHDL. Although they may seem similar at first, the two are quite different. PyCPU creates a processor on the FPGA chip which can execute a small range of Python code. MyHDL actually implements Hardware Description Language in the Python environment. Once you’re used HDL to model your hardware choices in a Python script, it is converted to VHDL then fed to the toolchain and pushed to the chip like normal.

This is not an absolute beginner’s experience. But if you’re well-versed in Python it makes the jump to HDL a lot easier because you’ll be working with syntax that is already familiar to you.

Making giant wooden balls

One day, we hope, we’ll be as awesome as [Keith Holaman]. He makes humongous wooden balls with a chainsaw, crane, and a truck-mounted lathe.

[Keith] got his start making wooden balls on a small lathe at home. For some reason he always wanted to make a bigger wooden ball, but his equipment at the time couldn’t handle this size in [Keith]‘s imagination.

To make his gigantic wooden balls, [Keith] skulks around his local forest looking for downed trees and stumps. After getting these huge logs home, he roughs out the sphere with a chainsaw, mounts a chuck on the log with huge bolts, and attached it to a diesel motor.

Because the logs are so huge, he can’t turn the log very fast. to remove a whole lot of wood very quickly, [Keith] spins his tool head at a few thousand RPM.

There aren’t many build details or even an indication of how big these wooden balls are. We’d guess they’re easily over a meter in diameter. If anyone knows where we can see these balls in person, drop a note in the comments.

Toorcamp is coming!

Hey, I like a good party like anyone else. I’ve been drooling over some of the projects coming out of burning man for years. However, the ratio of “gettin’ crazy” to “build awesome stuff” seems to be slanted in favor of the party experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, when I saw this, my eyes welled up with tears of joy.

ToorCamp is Burning Man with less drugs and more hacking. This summer ToorCamp will take place on the northwest corner of the staggeringly beautiful Olympic Peninsula. Just get yourself out there!

Located at the Hobuck beach resort near Neah Bay WA, Toorcamp is a 4 day event that should pull in roughly 1,000 enthusiastic hackers. There are four “villages” that you can wander through; the lock picking village, the hardware hackers village, the maker’s village, and the crafting village. All should include bountiful talks and hands on workshops. There’s also a quiet camp if you really really want to avoid the inevitable sporadic parties.