Is the second cheapest tool you can find any better than the cheapest one?
Readers with long memories will recall there was a time when I amused myself by tacking inexpensive tools or electronic devices to my various orders from the Chinese electronic Aladdin’s Cave. Often these inexpensive purchases proved to be as disastrous or ineffective as you might expect, but sometimes they show unexpected promise, true diamonds in the rough. It’s been a while and life has intervened over the last year, but it’s time to resume this harmless diversion.
Memories Of An Explosive Conclusion
A particularly memorable review came in April 2018, when I bought a five pound ($6.30) desoldering iron. I described it then as an “unholy lovechild of a cheap solder sucker and an even cheaper soldering iron“, and while that was an accurate portrayal it also showed promise as a useful tool that would fill a niche in my requirements. Desoldering is always slightly annoying, and a heated desolder pump genuinely does make a difference. Unfortunately for me, the cheap desoldering tool was not a product I’d recommend that anyone try for themselves. A combination of questionable electrical safety and a propensity to explosively deconstruct itself meant it has languished unused in my big box of cheap junk, and I’m still without a decent desoldering solution. It is time to buy something better, and in the rich tradition of reviewing inexpensive stuff I decided to pick up the next cheapest desoldering iron I could find. Eight pounds ($10) secured me a Shi Yi Tool Sy365-8, and I set to on this review. Continue reading “Review: Shi Yi Tool Sy365-8 Desoldering Iron, Second Cheapest You Can Find”→
There’s a new embedded hacking tool on the scene that gives you an interactive Python interface for a speedy chip on a board with oodles of GPIO, the ability to masquerade as different USB devices, and a legacy of tricks up its sleeve. This is the GreatFET, the successor to the much loved GoodFET.
I first heard this board was close to launch almost a year ago and asked for an early look. When shipping began at the end of April, they sent me one. Let’s dig in for a hands-on review of the GreatFET from Great Scott Gadgets.
Several months ago, a strange Kickstarter project from ‘Team IoT’ appeared that seemed too good to be true. The Atomic Pi was billed as a high-power alternative to the Raspberry Pi, and the specs are amazing. For thirty five American buckaroos, you get a single board computer with an Intel processor. You get 16 Gigs of eMMC Flash, more than enough for a basic Linux system and even a cut-down version of Windows 10. You have WiFi, you have Bluetooth, you have a real time clock, something so many of the other single board computers forget. The best part? It’s only thirty five dollars.
Naturally, people lost their minds. There are many challengers to the Raspberry Pi, but nothing so far can beat the Pi on both price and performance. Could the Atomic Pi be the single board computer that finally brings the folks from Cambridge to their knees? Is this the computer that will revolutionize STEM education, get on a postage stamp, and sell tens of millions of units?
No. The answer is no. While I’m not allowed to call the Atomic Pi “literal garbage” because our editors insist on the technicality that it’s “surplus” because they were purchased before they hit the trash cans, there will be no community built around this thirty five dollar single board computer. This is a piece of electronic flotsam that will go down in history right next to the Ouya console. There will be no new Atomic Pis made, and I highly doubt there will ever be any software updates. Come throw your money away on silicon, fiberglass and metal detritus! Or maybe you have a use for this thing. Meet the Atomic Pi!
When I am at a loss for an explanation in the world of electronics, I reach for my well-thumbed Horowitz & Hill. When H&H fails me which is not that often, the chances are I’ll find myself looking in an application note from a semiconductor company who is in cut-throat competition with its rivals in a bid for my attention. These companies have an extensive sales and marketing effort, part of which comes in the dissemination of knowledge.
Razor blades may be sold to young men with images of jet fighters and a subtle suggestion that a clean-shaven guy gets his girl, but semiconductor brands are sold by piquing the engineer’s interest with information. To that end, companies become publishing houses in praise of their products. They produce not only data sheets that deal with individual device, but app notes documents which cover a wider topic and tell the story of why this manufacturer’s parts are naturally the best in the world.
These app notes frequently make for fascinating reading, and if you haven’t found them yet you should head for the documentation sections of semiconductor biz websites and seek some of them out.
[VoltLog] got a hold of a prerelease unit of Joulescope — a DC energy analyzer that promises to make it easy to optimize power and energy usage of your electronic designs. You can find his review in the video below. The device is a very fast ammeter and voltmeter. Given that, it is easy to compute energy and, over time, power.
The device is set to retail for about $400 according to a letter in the video, although the website mentions closer to $800. Both of those seem to be a bit much for a piece of specialty gear that is really just a fast analog to digital converter and some software. To be fair, the device can read ranges between 18 microamps to 10 amps with resolutions as low as 1.5 nanoamps on the lower side of the range. Is it worth it? That will depend on your application and your price sensitivity.
When you go to a hacker conference, you always hope there’s going to be a hardware badge. This is an interactive piece of custom electronics that gets you in the door while also delighting and entertaining during the con (and hopefully far beyond it).
Hot off the presses then is the Hacker Hotel badge, from the comfortable weekend hacker camp of that name in a Netherlands hotel. As we have already noted, this badge comes from the same team that created the SHA2017 hacker camp’s offering, and shares that badge’s display, ESP32 processor, battery, and firmware. The evolution of that firmware into the badge.team platform is an exciting development in its own right, but in the context of this badge it lends a very familiar feel to the interface for those attendees who were also at the 2017 event.
It won’t replace your beloved Rasbperry Pi, but it’s worth saying hello to this “Strawberry Jam”, straight out of Japan. It’s an equally delicious way to get people interested in the basics of coding.
My hackerspace friend Jim is a lucky bloke, for last year he was able to take an extended holiday through a succession of East Asian countries. We were treated to online pictures of beautiful scenery and beaches, city lights, and of course exciting tech destinations such as hardware markets and hackerspaces. On his return he tossed a package on the table in front of me and said “Jenny, you might like to take a look at that, these are big in Japan!” Inside was an electronic kit and a few pieces of documentation, with Japanese text.
A Different Way To Get Kids Coding
What he’d given me was an IchigoJam (Best translation I’ve been given is “Strawberry Jam”), a small single-board computer aimed at young people. In the style of the 8-bit machines of the 1980s, it runs a comprehensive BASIC interpreter and plugs into a TV set, though it brings itself up-to-date with a USB-A socket for a keyboard. At its heart is an NXP LPC1114F102 ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller with 32KB of Flash and 4KB of SRAM, and though the board Jim passed to me has a surface-mount example it’s clear that it was also designed for the now-obsolete DIP variant of the chip. If you were to think of this as an odd hybrid of a BASIC Stamp, a Raspberry Pi, and one of the smaller MBED boards, you probably wouldn’t be too far from the mark. What follows is my impression of it based on the information at hand. Sadly the IchigoJam website and forum seems only available to Japanese viewers and returns an error code from my European perspective.