KiCad video series: from concept to manufacture

Many of our readers took the habit of using Eagle to design their PCBs. Even if you’ll find plenty of support for this software as well as a lot of parts libraries, the software comes with limitations. The useable board area is limited to 4×3.2 inches, only two signal layers can be used and more importantly the schematics editor can only create one sheet. On the other side, some of you may already know KiCad, a free open source and unrestricted schematics and layout software. [Chris] just tipped us of a video series he made, showing people how to design and build their very first PCB using this software. It’s a simple 555 circuit, but goes through all the steps necessary to design a PCB that costs only $5 through OSHpark… and will blink by the end. All the videos are also embedded after the break.

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GuruBrew’s 15 minute Windows 8 survival guide

GuruBrew Windows 8 Survival Guide

One thing very common to all of us is our reliance on operating systems in our hobby life. If that OS is Windows then you could be in for quite a shakeup with Windows 8. Many readers are Linux or Apple users and couldn’t care less if Microsoft is releasing an entire paradigm shift in desktop navigation. However, you just might find yourself facing this new OS and you’ll look like you’re on training wheels if you don’t get acquainted now, and considering the number of computers being released with Windows 8 its inevitable that day will come soon.

So if you haven’t been behind the wheel of Windows 8 then checkout [Steve’s] Windows 8 Survival Guide from the Guru Brew Tech Show. This is an excellent overview of the new touch screen navigation methods you’ll find in the Windows 8 desktop including hotspots, charms and tiles to name just a few. You’ll also learn tips to get around with a mouse and keyboard. It’s not a complete tutorial on using Windows 8 but you’ll at least know how to navigate, search for apps, work with multiple apps and find tools like task manager, control panel, file explorer as well as your familiar desktop.

Follow the break to watch the short survival guide video.

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Assigning new packages to Eagle PCB components

adafruit-eagle-component-creation-tut

If you’ve spent any time at all laying out your own circuit boards we’re sure you’ve run into the issue of not having the right component or package available in the standard libraries. If it’s a common part, chances are the symbol definition will be there.  But perhaps the footprint you want to use is missing? Here’s an easy to follow tutorial which demonstrates how to assign new packages to existing Eagle PCB components. It even shows the basics of how to tweak the footprint to fit your needs (like making SMD footprints easier to hand solder).

This will not teach you how to make your own custom symbols, or how to build packages from scratch. But it will let you locate the package you want to use from a different component, then copy it to your own library for use with different parts. And the techniques shown make this a quick and relatively painless process.

We certainly don’t want to start another comment quagmire like the recent PIC v. AVR discussion. But we’ve used both Kicad and Eagle rather extensively and feel that neither one has really mastered part/footprint creation in a user-friendly way. We like Kicad’s total separation of footprints from components, and it’s myriad of parameters which can be used to tweak the layout. But if you use the same components frequently, Eagle’s standard of linking parts and footprints does end up saving a lot of time. What do you think?

Learn a little assembly language for the 6502 processor

6502-assembly-tutorial

Evern wanted to write your own Atari 2600 games? This won’t get you quite that far, but it will teach you the very basics. It’s an assembly tutorial for the 6502 processor. The nice thing is that you need nothing more than your browser to participate thanks to the embedded JavaScript emulator which acts as assembler, machine, and debugger in one.

The 6502 was in a lot of early equipment. In addition to the previously mentioned Atari they can be found in the Commodore 64, Apple II, and the original NES. You can even find folks building their own computers around the chip these days (most notable to us is the Veronica project). The guide starts off slowly, providing a working program and challenging the reader to play with to code in order to alter the outcomes. It moves on to an overview of registers and instructions, operators and branching, and culminates in the creation of a simple game.

[Thanks Mathilda]

How computers work, starting with transistor gates

[Andrew Gibiansky] has just started a tutorial series called Computing with Transistors. It’s purpose is to pull back the many veiled layers between high level languages and the controlling of electrons. And fittingly this first post starts off by explaining voltage source, load, and current. Don’t be thrown by its simplicity though. [Andrew] quickly moves on to talk about switching transistors and how they are used to build gates like the OR NOR gate seen above.

If this is the least bit interesting you should also look back at the post about Nand 2 Tetris. It’s an online course that works its way through The Elements of Computing Systems text book. We’ve been following that journey ourselves, having made it through the hardware build in about a week. The assembler took about the same amount of time, and right now we’re in debugging hell trying to get the last function call and return parts of the VM translator to work right. We’ve used most of the skills needed in this journey before, but never all in one project. It really has shed a lot of light on the gaps in our knowledge, and we’re having a lot of fun at the same time!

[via Reddit]

Reading analog sensors with the Raspberry Pi

Adafruit just posted an awesome tutorial on reading analog sensors with the Raspberry Pi. It’s a great walkthrough that can be applied to your next Raspi project as well as any project where you just need one more analog input.

Earlier, the folks over at Adafruit posted a tutorial on using a MCP3008 ADC with the Raspi to directly read analog values using a Raspi. Sometimes, though, you don’t need eight analog inputs and a 12-bit ADC to get a project off the ground. Adafruit’s tutorial for reading analog values without an ADC relies on a single 1μF ceramic capacitor attached between a digital input and ground. By pulling the sensor line high for a millisecond or two, the capacitor charges at different rates depending on the value of the analog sensor.

Yes, it’s just an RC timing circuit but seeing as how the Raspi doesn’t have an analog input, we figure this tutorial could help out a few people.

[Balint] is starting a software-defined radio tutorial series

A few months ago, we saw a hack where a $20 USB TV tuner was transformed into a software-defined radio capable of reading GPS signals, listening to radio transmissions between aircraft and a control tower, and even a simple FM radio. This project is a perfect introduction to the RTL-SDR and Ham radio scene, but getting these projects up and running can be a bit overwhelming for anyone who hasn’t played around with this before. [Balint] is tackling this problem head on with a series of YouTube tutorials to get SDR noobs up and running with GNU Radio and the Realtec USB TV tuner.

To demonstrate the power of software-defined radio, [Balint] is using GNU Radio and the USB TV tuner that started it all, the Ezcap EZTV668 (conveniently back in stock at DealExtreme, but other options exist). Because software-defined radio is a touch confusing for a beginner to wrap their head around, [Balint] is beginning his tutorial series by explaining radio sources, sinks, and the GNU Radio interface.

Already, [Balint] has put up 5 tutorials and made the flowgraph files available in his gr-baz project. He’s doing a wonderful job opening up the software-defined radio scene to beginners, but he’s still looking for some feedback. If you have a suggestion on what [Balint] should cover next, leave a note in the YouTube comments and we’re sure [Balint] will get around to that eventually.