New Year Habits – What Do You Do For Data Storage?

2020 is a year of reflection and avoiding regret, and one of the biggest practices we all know we should do better is back up our data. Inevitably there will be a corruption or accident, and we mourn the loss of some valuable data and vow to never let it happen again, and then promptly forget about good data retention practices.

I believe life is about acquiring memories, so it makes sense to me to try to archive and store those memories so that I can reflect on them later, but data storage and management is a huge pain. There’s got to be a better way (cue black and white video of clumsy person throwing up arms in disgust).

Nice Cloud You Have There; Shame if Something Happened to It

The teens of the century saw a huge shift towards cloud storage. The advantages of instantly backing up files and using the cloud as the primary storage for all your devices is appealing. It’s now easier to transfer files via the cloud than with a cable. With Google Docs and WordPress we have our most important documents and writing stored as database blobs on someone else’s servers. Facebook and Google and Flickr record all of our memories as photo albums. Unlimited storage is common, and indexing is so good that we can find photos with a vague description of their contents.

These things are instantly accessible, but lack permanence. Gone are newspaper clippings and printed photos discovered in a shoebox. When we aren’t in control of those services, they can disappear without any warning. Even some big offerings have packed up shop, leaving people scrambling to back up data before the servers were shut down. Google Plus is closed, Yahoo¬† Groups is closed, MySpace lost all content created prior to 2016, GeoCities closed in 2009, and Ubuntu One closed in 2014. It’s safe to say that no online content is safe from deletion. It’s also safe to say that cloud storage is a difficult location from which to extract your data.

With the risk of data leaks and privacy violations occurring daily, it’s also safe to say that some of your files should probably not be stored in the cloud in the first place. So, how do we do it well, and how do we get in the habit of doing it regularly?

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Parallel Pis For Production Programming; Cutting Minutes And Dollars Off Of Assembly

Assembly lines for electronics products are complicated beasts, often composed of many custom tools and fixtures. Typically a microcontroller must be programmed with firmware, and the circuit board tested before assembly into the enclosure, followed by functional testing afterwards before putting it in a box. These test platforms can be very expensive, easily into the tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, this project uses a set of 12 Raspberry Pi Zero Ws in parallel to program, test, and configure up to 12 units at once before moving on to the next stage in assembly.

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Conductive Tape Current Capacity Comparison

The world of DIY circuits for STEM and wearables has a few options for conductors. Wire with Dupont connectors is a standard, as is adhesive copper tape. There’s also conductive nylon/steel thread or ribbon. Which you choose depends on your application, of course, but as a general rule wire is cheap and ubiquitous while making connections is more challenging; copper tape is cheap and simple to use, but delicate and rips easily, so is best used for flat surfaces that won’t see a lot of stress or temporary applications; and conductive nylon thread or tape is better for weaving into fabrics.

The Brown Dog Gadgets team wanted to respond to a frequent question they are asked, what are the current limits for their Maker Tape (nylon/steel ribbon), so they ran some experiments to find out. In the name of Science you’ll see some flames in the video below, but only under extreme conditions.
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Optical Keyboards Have Us Examining Typing At Light Speed-ish

There’s a newish development in the world of keyboards; the optical switch. It’s been around for a couple years in desktop keyboards, and recently became available on a laptop keyboard as well. These are not replacements for your standard $7 keyboard with rubber membrane switches intended for puttering around on your raspberry pi. Their goal is the gamer market.

The question, though, is are these the equivalent of Monster Cables for audiophiles: overpriced status symbols? Betteridge would be proud; the short answer is that no, there is a legitimate advantage, and for certain types of use, it makes a lot of sense.

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Lessons In Li-Ion Safety

If you came here from an internet search because your battery just blew up and you don’t know how to put out the fire, then use a regular fire extinguisher if it’s plugged in to an outlet, or a fire extinguisher or water if it is not plugged in. Get out if there is a lot of smoke. For everyone else, keep reading.

I recently developed a product that used three 18650 cells. This battery pack had its own overvoltage, undervoltage, and overcurrent protection circuitry. On top of that my design incorporated a PTC fuse, and on top of that I had a current sensing circuit monitored by the microcontroller that controlled the board. When it comes to Li-Ion batteries, you don’t want to mess around. They pack a lot of energy, and if something goes wrong, they can experience thermal runaway, which is another word for blowing up and spreading fire and toxic gasses all over. So how do you take care of them, and what do you do when things go poorly?

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Better Battery Management Through Chemistry

The lead-acid rechargeable battery is a not-quite-modern marvel. Super reliable and easy to use, charging it is just a matter of applying a fixed voltage to it and waiting a while; eventually the battery is charged and stays topped off, and that’s it. Their ease is countered by their size, weight, energy density, and toxic materials.

The lithium battery is the new hotness, but their high energy density means a pretty small package that can get very angry and dangerous when mishandled. Academics have been searching for safer batteries, better charge management systems, and longer lasting battery formulations that can be recharged thousands of times, and a recent publication is generating a lot of excitement about it.

Consider the requirements for a battery cell in an electric car:

  • High energy density (Lots of power stored in a small size)
  • Quick charge ability
  • High discharge ability
  • MANY recharge cycles
  • Low self-discharge
  • Safe

Lithium ion batteries are the best option we have right now, but there are a variety of Li-ion chemistries, and depending on the expected use and balancing and charging, different chemistries can be optimized for different performance characteristics. There’s no perfect battery yet, and conflicting requirements mean that the battery market will likely always have some options.

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Life On Contract: Product Development Lessons Big And Small

Developing a product and getting it out there to build a business is really hard. Whether it’s a single person acting alone to push their passion to the public, or a giant corporation with vast resources, everyone has to go through the same basic steps, and everyone needs to screw those steps up in the same way.

The reality is that the whole process needs to involve lots of aspects in order to succeed; small teams fail by not considering or dedicating resources to all of those aspects, and large teams fail by not having enough communication between the teams working on those pieces. But in truth, it’s a balance of many aspects that unlock a chance at a successful product. It’s worth recognizing this balance and seeking it out in your own product development efforts, whether you’re a one-engineer juggernaut or a large, established company.

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