Ask Hackaday: Do You Calibrate Your Instruments?

Like many of you, I have a bench full of electronic instruments. The newest is my Rigol oscilloscope, only a few years old, while the oldest is probably my RF signal generator that dates from some time in the early 1950s. Some of those instruments have been with me for decades, and have been crucial in the gestation of countless projects.

If I follow the manufacturer’s recommendations then just like that PAT tester I should have them calibrated frequently. This process involves sending them off to a specialised lab where their readings are compared to a standard and they are adjusted accordingly, and when they return I know I can trust their readings. It’s important if you work in an industry where everything must be verified, for example I’m certain the folks down the road at Airbus use meticulously calibrated instruments when making assemblies for their aircraft, because there is no room for error in a safety critical application at 20000 feet.

But on my bench? Not so much, nobody is likely to face danger if my frequency counter has drifted by a few Hz. Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Do You Calibrate Your Instruments?”

Ask Hackaday: What Do You Do When You Can’t Solder?

Ah, soldering. It’s great for sticking surface mount parts to a PCB, and it’s really great for holding component legs in a plated through-hole. It also does a pretty great job of holding two spliced wires together.

With that said, it can be a bit of a fussy process. There are all manner of YouTube videos and image tutorials on the “properest” way to achieve this job. Maybe it’s the classic Lineman’s Splice, maybe it’s some NASA-approved method, or maybe it’s one of those ridiculous ones where you braid all the copper strands together, solder it all up, and then realize you’ve forgotten to put the heat shrink on first.

Sure, soldering’s all well and good. But what about some of the other ways to join a pair of wires?

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Ask Hackaday: Why Retrocomputing?

I recently dropped in on one of the Vintage Computer Festival events, and it made me think about why people — including myself — are fascinated with old computer technology. In my case, I lived through a lot of it, and many of the people milling around at VCF did too, so it could just be nostalgia. But there were also young people there.

Out of curiosity, I asked people about the appeal of the old computers on display there. Overwhelmingly, the answer was: you can understand the whole system readily. Imagine how long it would take you to learn all the hardware and software details of your current desktop computer CPU. Then add your GPU, the mass storage controllers, and your network interface. I don’t mean knowing the part numbers, specs, and other trivialities. I mean being able to program, repair, and even enhance it.

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Ask Hackaday: What’s Linux Anyway?

Any time we mention Linux, it is a fair bet we will get a few comments from people unhappy that we didn’t refer to it as GNU/Linux or with some other appellation. To be fair, they aren’t wrong. Linux is a kernel. Much of what we think of as a Linux desktop OS is really from other sources, including, but not limited to, GNU. We thought about this after reading a report from [The Register] that Linux has nearly half of the desktop OS Linux market. Wait, what?

If you are like us, you probably think that’s a typo. It isn’t. But the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. You know that half of the world’s desktops don’t run Linux. But maybe they mean Unix? Nope. So how can Linux have almost half of the Linux market? That’s like saying nearly half of Hackaday readers read Hackaday, right?

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Ask Hackaday: Learn Assembly First, Last, Or Never?

A few days ago, I ran into an online post where someone pointed out the book “Learn to Program with Assembly” and asked if anyone had ever learned assembly language as a first programming language. I had to smile because, if you are a certain age, your first language may well have been assembly, even if it was assembly for machines that never existed.

Of course, that was a long time ago. It is more likely, these days, if you are over 40, you might have learned BASIC first. Go younger, and you start skewing towards Java, Javascript, or even C. It got me thinking, though: should people learn assembly, and if so, when?

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Ask Hackaday: Split Rail Op Amp Power Supply

Water cooler talk at the office usually centers around movies, sports, or life events. Not at Hackaday. We have the oddest conversations and, this week, we are asking for your help. It is no secret that we have a special badge each year for Supercon. Have you ever wondered where those badges come from? Sometimes we do too. We can’t tell you what the badge is going to be for Supercon 2023, but here’s a chance for you to contribute to its design.

What I can tell you is that at least part of the badge is analog. Part, too, is digital. So we were discussing a seemingly simple question: How do we best generate a bipolar power source for the op amps on a badge? Like all design requests, this one is unreasonable. We want:

  • Ideally, we’d like a circuit to give us +/- 9 V to +/- 12 V at moderately low current, say in the tens of milliamps. Actual values TBD.
  • Low noise: analog circuitry, remember?
  • Lightweight: it is going on a badge
  • Battery operated: the badge thing again
  • Cheap: we only have a couple bucks in the budget for power
  • Available in quantity: we’ll need ~600 of these

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Split Rail Op Amp Power Supply”

Ask Hackaday: The Ten Dollar Digital Mixing Desk?

There comes a point in every engineer’s life at which they need a mixing desk, and for me that point is now. But the marketplace for a cheap small mixer just ain’t what it used to be. Where once there were bedroom musicians with a four-track cassette recorder if they were lucky, now everything’s on the computer. Lay down as many tracks as you like, edit and post-process them digitally without much need for a physical mixer, isn’t it great to be living in the future!

This means that those bedroom musicians no longer need cheap mixers, so the models I was looking for have disappeared. In their place are models aimed at podcasters and DJs. If I want a bunch of silly digital effects or a two-channel desk with a crossfader I can fill my boots, but for a conventional mixer I have to look somewhat upmarket. Around the three figure mark are several models, but I am both a cheapskate and an engineer. Surely I can come up with an alternative. Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: The Ten Dollar Digital Mixing Desk?”