SparkFun, you know them, you love them. They list themselves as “an online retail store” but I remember them for well-designed breakout boards, free-day, videos about building electronics, and the Autonomous Vehicle Competition. This week SparkFun turned my head for a different reason with the announcement that [Nathan Siedle], founder and CEO will be stepping down. He’s not leaving, but returning to the Engineering department while someone else takes the reigns. I spoke with him yesterday about what this means for him, the company, and what SparkFun has planned for the future.
Stepping Down Without Saying Goodbye
[Nate] founded Sparkfun in 2003 while still working on his Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Colorado Boulder. He cites wanting to return to his engineering roots as the reason for his title shift, which won’t happen for at least 9 or 10 months. It’s the concept of leaving the CEO position without leaving the company that raises many questions in my mind.
Continue reading “Talking Big Changes At SparkFun With Nathan Seidle”
As a child, [Mike Chrisp] saw a film featuring one of the great narrow gauge English locomotives. While the story was inordinately heartening, as soon as he walked out of the theatre, [Mike] said to himself that he had to have one of these locomotives. Thus began a lifelong adventure in model engineering.
[Mike] builds model locomotives and other steam-powered means of motive power. Everything from five-inch gauge locomotives to small steam tractors is liable to come out of his small workshop, all built with the machining and engineering excellence only a lifetime of experience can provide.
As for what drives [Mike] to stay in his workshop for long hours, he says his shop is just a place to be, a place to tinker, and a place to simply think about things, even if his hands aren’t getting dirty. There’s something beautiful about that, even if [Mike] were to hide the products of his skill away from the world.
The video game industry must be one of the most secretive sectors when it comes to developing the electronic hardware used in the gaming consoles. The big guys don’t want to give anything away — to the competition or to the hackers who will try to get around their security measures. But it seems Sifteo doesn’t share those secretive values. We had a great time reading about the bumpy ride for the developers bringing the gaming system from concept to market. [Micah Elizabeth Scott] wrote the guest post for Adafruit Industries. She was brought on as an engineer for the Sifteo project just after the first version of the interactive gaming cube was released. From her narrative it seems like this was the top of the big hill on the roller coaster ride for the company.
What’s seen above is one gaming cube. The system developed in [Beth’s] story puts together multiple cubes for each game. The issue at hand when she joined the company was how to put more power in the hardware and rely less heavily on a computer to which it was tethered. She discusses cost of components versus features offered, how to deliver the games to the system, and all that the team learned from studying successful consoles that came before them like the long line of Nintendo hardware. It’s a fascinating read if you’re interesting in how the sausage is made.
Although Todd Harrison could be one of many of our readers (and most of our writers), it was nice to see one of “us” featured in [EEWeb]. [HAD] has featured him before in posts such as this recent one about replacing solder tab batteries.
What may be interesting to many is that soon after [Todd] graduated he took a job as a computer programmer, but like many other part-time makers, he still had the need to physically create and modify things. This article goes over some of his preferred tools, as well as some of the various projects that he’s done or is working on now.
In the article, [Todd] goes over what he sees as the biggest challenges to inspiring new generations of engineers. One of these is that circuitry is increasingly locked down and are not easily tinkered with. Without exploring how things work, his view is that fewer will be inspired to go into engineering. Although there is certainly some validity to his point, as some doors close, others hopefully will open. The accessible learning environment of the Internet, open source resources, and many maker-friendly materials like the Arduino should help to fill in the gaps.
For more information, [Todd] also has his own blog, Toddfun.com, which features his projects.
This is [Pete Dokter], the fourth employee that Sparkfun ever had and currently Director of Engineering there. As you can see, they’re not letting [Peter] come out of his hole. Instead of designing new breakout boards they’ve given him a camera that he’ll be using to record his occasional pontifications. ‘According to Pete’ will become a regularly occuring online show where he answers questions from around the Internets. We’ll admit that the first episode, embedded after the break, is a bit content thin – serving only as an introduction. But we think [Pete] has a pleasant manner and we look forward to what blossoms out of this modest beginning.
We’ve long been fans of engineering-oriented online shows such as [Dave Jones’] EEVBlog, [Bill Hammack’s] The Engineer Guy, A collaboration between [Chris Gammell, Dave Jones, and Jeff Keyzer] call The Amp Hour, [Jeri Ellsworth’s] A-Z Videos and her upcoming series, [Ben Heck’s] The Ben Heck Show…. and we could go on.
With offerings like these you don’t need to wait for traditional TV to transition to IP delivery. Just stop watching crap and start watching these interesting shows.
Continue reading “According to Pete – new online video series”
I [Caleb], finally had a chance to catch one of the live chat sessions over at Adafruit.com called “Ask an engineer“. I was pleasantly surprised. Though the show is only an hour long, the amount of information covered was quite amazing. They started out, announcing a new, this really cool looking touch screen system, product and going over the tech specs. This very quickly turned into a question and answer session about how to utilize and modify the device. [Limor], aka [ladyada] was extremely knowledgeable and [rossum], the designer who made it even showed up in the chat to fill in the rare gap. After that, there was a general question and answer period where people were firing off questions so fast I couldn’t watch them all and still follow her answers. It was a lot of fun and quite frankly felt way too short.
Be sure to check it out on Saturday night at 10:00 P.M. ET
Occasionally when a device breaks, the defect is obvious. Whether it is a blown fuse or a defective capacitor, generally the easy to see stuff is easy to fix. When a problem is more subtle, or when doing some more advanced tasks like adding functionality to a device, greater knowledge about a circuit board is required. While there might be details hidden in lower levels of PCB, often just knowing the mounted components and layout of the outside layers can be enough to create a rough schematic of a device. [Throbscottle] has put together an excellent guide for procedurally breaking down a photo of a board and turning it in to something useful. The guide utilizes some open source image processing software such as the GIMP, Inkscape, and Dia, all of which are widely available. Keep in mind this reverse engineering can be a time consuming process, but will almost definitely reward those patient enough to work through it.
[Thanks to everyone who sent this in!]