Local Hacker Discovers Card Edge Connectors

When [turingbirds] was looking around for the absolute minimum connector for a JTAG adapter, he wanted something small, that didn’t require expensive adapters, and that could easily and reliably connect a few JTAG pins to a programmer. This, unsurprisingly, is a problem that’s been solved many times over, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. [turingbirds] found his better solution by looking at some old card edge connectors.

Instead of 0.1″ pitch pin headers, weirder and more expensive connectors, the Tag Connect, or even pogo pins, [turingbirds] came up with a JTAG adapter that required no additional parts, had a small footprint, and could be constructed out of trash usually found behind any busy hackerspace or garage. The connector is based on the venerable PCI connector, chopped up with a Dremel and soldered to a JTAG or ISP programmer.

This is simply a card edge connector, something the younglings seem to have forgotten. Back in the day, card edge connectors were a great way to connect peripherals, ports, and anything else to the outside world. They were keyed, and you could only put them in one way. They were relatively cheap, and with a big coil of ribbon cable, you could make custom adapters easily. For low-speed connections that will only be used a few times, it’s very hard to beat a card edge connector.

Of course the connector itself is only half of the actual build. To turn a chopped up PCI connector into a JTAG adapter, [turingbirds] made footprint and part files for his favorite PCB design tool. In this case it’s Eagle, and the libraries that will plop one of these connectors down are available on GitHub.

Is this the latest and greatest way to plug a programmer into a board? No, because this has been around for 30 or 40 years. It does, however, put a programming port on a PCB with zero dollars in components, a minimum of board footprint, and uses parts that can be salvaged from any pile of old computers.

Build Yourself an Awesome Modular Power Supply

You may think you’ve built a power supply for your bench. Heck, we all do. But until you check out [Denis]’s bench power supply build, you may not even know what you’re missing.

[Denis]’s design is nearly entirely modular and targeted to the intermediate builder. It’s built on easily available parts and through-hole components. It’s got an Arduino running as the brains, so you’re going to be able to hack on the code when you feel like tweaking it. But easy doesn’t mean light on features. Let’s walk through the build together.

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It starts off with a pre-regulator: a switching MOSFET that gets the voltage down to just a couple volts above the target value. Then it’s off to the post-regulator that includes all of the fine adjustments, the DAC and ADC interfacing to the microcontroller, and some fancy features like a “down-programmer” that turns the output off extra quickly.

On the user end of things, [Denis] made a very sleek board that incorporates a TFT touchscreen for the controls, Arduino connections, and the obligatory banana plug outputs. There’s opto-isolation on the SPI bus, a real-time clock, and a bunch more goodies on board. He’s in his third revision of this module, and that level of refinement shows. It’s even SCPI compliant, meaning you can control remotely using an industry-standard protocol.

So what would you do with a ridiculously fancy power supply under microcontroller control? Test out battery charging algorithms? Program test routines to see how your devices will work as their batteries drain out? We have no idea, but we know we want one!

Pimp My Scope: Touchscreen Edition

Do you have a touch-screen oscilloscope? Neither do we. But how cool would that be to pan left and right or expand either axis just like you do on your cellphone screen? [Igor] did just that, and the results (in the video below the break) look fantastic.

We’ve covered [Igor]’s previous round of hacking on his Siglent scope, where he bricked it by flashing the wrong firmware, and then fixed it by Frankensteining the screen into the box that the firmware wanted. But once he’d gotten the scope-hacking bug, he couldn’t quit.

A brief overview: an Arduino Nano reads the touchscreen and sends the commands to the scope to act accordingly. [Igor] initially wanted to simply use the COM port on the back to control, but his previous mis-flashing of the firmware had rendered that moot. Instead, he went after the data bus that interfaces with the keyboard unit, reverse engineered its protocol, and spoofed keypresses with custom code in the AVR.

As a side effect of all this, [Igor] could also write a script that controls the scope from his computer, and he ended up re-housing it all in the nice wooden front panel that you see now. It’s more than a step up from the previous covered-in-electrical-tape look, and the new functionality is very very cool. Kudos.

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A Better Way to Plug a CPLD into a Breadboard

If you read my first post about a simple CPLD do-it-yourself project you may remember that I seriously wiffed when I made the footprint 1” wide, which was a bit too wide for common solderless breadboards. Since then I started over, having fixed the width problem, and ended up with a module that looks decidedly… cuter.

To back up a little bit, a Complex Programmable Logic Device (CPLD) is a cool piece of hardware to have in your repertoire and it can be used to learn logic or a high level design language or replace obsolete functions or chips. But a CPLD needs a little bit of support infrastructure to become usable, and that’s what I’ll be walking you through here. So if you’re interested in learning CPLDs, or just designing boards for them, read on!

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Solder Paste Dispenser has No 3D Printed Parts!

If you’ve never used a solder paste dispenser, you’re missing out. Think about always using a crappy soldering iron, and then for the first time using a high-end one. Suddenly you’re actually not bad at soldering things! It’s kind of like that.

Most solder paste dispensers make use of compressed air, which requires an extra setup to use that you might not have. The goal of this project was to make a solder paste dispenser that doesn’t use compressed air, and doesn’t have any 3D printed parts (in case you don’t have a 3D printer) — and it looks like the inventor, [MikeM], succeeded!

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Need a Nano-Ammeter? You Already Have One!

[Dannyelectronics] sometimes needs to measure tiny currents. Really tiny, like leakage currents through a capacitor. He’s built a few setups to make the measurements, but he also knew he’d sometimes want to take readings when he didn’t have his custom gear available. So he decided to see what he could do with an ordinary digital meter.

dmm-nano-ammeterAs you might expect, a common digital meter’s current scales aren’t usually up to measuring nano- or pico-amps. [Danny’s] approach was not to use the ammeter scale. Instead, he measures the voltage developed across the input impedance of the meter (which is usually very high, like one megaohm). If you know the input characteristics of the meter (or can calibrate against a known source), you can convert the voltage to a current.

For example, on a Fluke 115 meter, [Danny] found that he could read up to 60nA with a resolution of 0.01nA. A Viktor 81D could resolve down to 2.5pA–a minuscule current indeed.

We’ve looked at the difficulties involved in reading small currents before. If tiny currents aren’t your thing, maybe you’d like to try charging an iPhone with 3 KA, instead.

LED Tester Royale

What do you get for the geek who has everything and likes LEDs? A tricked-out LED tester, naturally. [Dave Cook]’s deluxe model sports an LCD screen and two adjustable values: desired current and supply voltage. Dial these in, plug in your LED, and the tiny electronic brain inside figures out the resistor value that you need. How easy is that?

An LED tester can be as easy as a constant-current power supply, and in fact that’s what [Dave]’s first LED tester was, in essence. Set an LM317 circuit up to output 10mA, say, and you can safely test out about any LED. Read off the operating voltage, subtract that from the supply voltage, and then divide by your desired current to figure out the required resistor. It only takes a few seconds, but that’s a few seconds too many!

The new device does the math for you by adding an AVR ATtiny84 into the mix. The microcontroller reads the voltage that the constant current supply requires, does the above-mentioned subtraction and division, and displays the needed resistor. So simple. And as he demonstrates in the video below, it does double-duty as a diode tester.

This is a great beginner’s project, and it introduces a bunch of fundamental ideas: reading the ADC, writing to an LED screen, building a constant current circuit, etc. And at the end, you have a useful tool. This would make a great kit!

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