Swapping Dev Board Crystals to Suit Your Needs

Microcontroller Dev Boards have the main hardware choices already made for you so you can jump right into the prototyping by adding peripherals and writing code. Some of the time they have everything you need, other times you can find your own workarounds, but did you ever try just swapping out components to suit? [Andy Brown] documented his process of transplanting the clock crystal on an STM32F4 Discovery board.

Even if you don’t need to do this for yourself, the rework process he documented in the clip after the break is fun to watch. He starts by cleaning the through-hole joints of the crystal oscillator with isopropyl alcohol and then applies some flux paste to each. From there the rest is all hot air. The crystal nearly falls out due to gravity but at the end he needs to pluck it out with his fingers. We’re happy to see others using this “method” as we always feel like it’s a kludge when we do it. Next he grabs the load caps with a pair of tweezers after the briefest of time under the heat.

We’d like to have a little bit of insight on the parts he replaces and we’re hoping there are a few crystal oscillator experts who can leave a comment below. [Andy] calculates a pair of 30pf load caps for this crystal. We understand the math but he mentions a common value for board and uC input capacitance:

assuming the commonly quoted CP + CI = 6pF

So we asked and [Andy] was kind enough to share his background on the topic:

It’s a general “rule of thumb” for FR4 that the stray capacitance due to the traces on the board and the input (lead) capacitance of the the MCU is in in the range of 4-8pF. I’m used to quoting the two separately (CP,CI) but if you look around you’ll see that most people will combine the two and call it just “CP” and quote a value somewhere between 4 and 8pF. It’s all very “finger in the air” and for general purpose MCU clocks you can get away picking the mid-value and be done with it.

That leaves just one other question; the original discovery board had an in-line resistor on one of the crystal traces which he replaces with a zero ohm jumper. Is it common to include a resistor and what is the purpose for it?

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How to Directly Program an Inexpensive ESP8266 WiFi Module

The ESP8266 is the answer to “I want something with Wifi.” Surprisingly, there are a number of engineers and hobbyists who have not heard of this chip or have heard of it but don’t really understand what it is. It’s basically the answer to everything IoT to so many engineering problems that have plagued the hobbyist and commercial world alike.

The chip is a processor with integrated RAM, some ROM, and a WiFi radio, and the only external components you will need are 4 capacitors, a crystal and an external flash! It’s CHEAP, like $4/ea cheap! Or $5 if you want it on a nice, convenient carrier board that includes all these components. The power consumption is reasonable (~200mA)1, the range is insane ~300m2 without directional equipment, and a PCB trace antenna and ~4km if you want to be ridiculous.

One place thing that more people need to know about is how to program directly for this chip. Too many times projects use it as a crutch via the AT commands. Read on and find out how to hello world with just this chip.

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Beating DRM to Extend the Life of an Anti-Aging Therapy Light Mask

It’s becoming more common to see DRM cropping up in an increasing number of hardware products nowadays. Quite often, its used to prevent the use of unauthorized consumables and some may argue that it helps prevent counterfeiting and help shore up revenues. But it’s a totally different matter when DRM is used to severely limit the operational life of a product. When [travis] wrote in about the run time limitation on an “Illumimask” light therapy device, we first had to look up what that device was. Apparently, these are anti-acne or anti-aging light therapy masks that use red and blue LEDs to kill skin bacteria, stimulate skin cells and reduce blemishes. While these claims most likely may not hold water, the device itself is cheap enough not to hurt you at $30 a pop.

The trouble is, it is limited to 30 daily uses of 15 minutes each, totaling just 7 1/2 hours, effectively lasting you a month. At the end of which, you just discard the device and get a new one. That seems like a ridiculous waste of a perfectly fine, functional device whose LED’s can last at least 30,000 to 40,000 hours. [travis]’s wife [Bebefuzz] was obviously pissed at this situation. So she did a simple hack to bypass the microcontroller that imposed the goofy restrictions. In [travis]’s own words “Not a crazy-technical hack…. but a very functional one to bypass a manufacturer’s ‘WTF'”. It involved soldering a slide switch across the circuit terminals that the micro-controller uses to monitor the LED current (likely). Unfortunately, this also breaks the 15 minute timer measurement, so she now has to manually switch off the device at the end of the 15 minute therapy cycle.

To check out more DRM hacks, check out these we covered earlier, from Coffee Makers to 3D printer filaments to Cat Litter boxes and even furniture.

Instrumentation Amplifiers and How to Measure Miniscule Change

These days there a large number of sensors and analog circuits that are “controller friendly” meaning that their output signal is easily interfaced to the built-in Analog to Digital Convertors (ADCs) often found in today’s micro-controllers. This means that the signals typically are already amplified, often filtered, and corrected for offset and linearity. But when faced with very low level signals, or signals buried in a larger signal an Instrumentation Amplifier may be what’s needed. The qualities of an Instrumentation Amplifier include:

  • A differential amplifier with high impedance and low bias current on both inputs.
  • Low noise and low drift when amplifying very small signals.
  • The ability to reject a voltage that is present on both inputs, referred to as Common Mode Rejection Ratio (CMRR)

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Dirt Cheap Motor Balancing and Vibration Analysis

Ever the enterprising hacker and discerning tool aficionado, [Chris] knows the importance of “feel”. As a general rule, cheap tools will shake in your hand because the motors are not well-balanced. He wanted a way to quantify said feel on the cheap, and made a video describing how he was able to determine the damping of a drill using a few items most people have lying around: an earbud, a neodymium magnet, scrap steel, and Audacity.

He’s affixed the body of the drill to a cantilevered piece of scrap steel secured in a vise. The neodymium magnet stuck to the steel interrupts the magnetic field in the earbud, which is held in place with a third hand tool. [Chris] taped the drill’s trigger down and controls its speed a variac. First, [Chris] finds the natural frequency of the system using Audacity’s plot spectrum, and then gets the drill to run at the same speed to induce wobbling at different nodes. As he explains, one need not even use software to show the vibration nodes—a laser attached to the system and aimed at a phosphorescent target will plot the sine wave.

Just for fun, he severely unbalances the drill to find the frequencies at which the system will shake itself apart. Check it out after the break.

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Cheap, dirty and perfect V-Groove Foam Cutter

If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Conversely, if you have the right tool for every job, it makes the difference between pro and amateur. [ftregan] needs to cut perfect V-grooves in foam for many of his projects, especially building RC planes. He wasn’t too satisfied with the results using his Xacto knife. And a proper tool was going to set him back by almost $25, but following that example he built his own version of the tool for much less.

Two pieces of wood cut at a 45 degree angle are held between two flat support pieces. A pair of regular shaving blades form the cutting elements. While it looks simple, it’s important to get the angles and blade directions correct. A central wooden wedge holds the two blades in place. He also added a small guide marker that let’s you cut precise straight grooves. [ftregan] built the tool to allow cutting 6mm thick foam but given that it’s so quick and cheap to build, we guess it’s easy to make a few of these to allow cutting different thicknesses of foam. We’re sure that many of you will find different or better ways of doing this, but considering [ftregan] spent just 15 minutes cooking this up, it’s not too bad, especially since the results are mighty good.

Another method of cutting foam is with hot wire. Check out this DIY Foam Cutter that we featured earlier.

Design & Build Part 2: Multi-Band, Phasing SSB, and SDR

 

Amateur radio is the ultimate hacker’s hobby. You can design, build, and put on the air your own high power transceivers. And with this homemade gear you are able to reach out directly, not relying on any infrastructure whatsoever, to connect with people all over the world. It is a thrilling experience to communicate with that long distance station using equipment you created, where you know at that instant what every single transistor is doing as you key down the mic.

In a previous post I described how SSB radio equipment worked and provided an example of a single-band 20m SSB transceiver. In this post I will discuss a multi-band SSB transceiver, an entire homemade amateur station including amplifiers, and conclude with software defined radio (SDR) that you can make in one weekend.

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