A Datasheet Manifesto For The 21st Century

Selecting electronic components can be a frustrating process, one of trawling through the websites of distributors such as DigiKey, Mouser, or RS, and then poring over manufacturer data sheets. These documents produced as detailed guides to the technical specifications of a device contain enough to give an engineer everything they need to incorporate it into their designs.

Unfortunately many datasheets fall short of the ideal, and have instead become marketing documents designed to “win the socket”. This is a problem that vexes Boldport’s [Saar Drimer], and he has written a personal manifesto outlining his vision to make the world of datasheets a better place.

It’s a common-sense designer’s wishlist, and it’s one we could completely get behind. Chief among his desires are web-readable datasheets as well as the ubiquitous PDFs, with full data in human and machine readable forms instead of tiny printed graphs and tables. He also makes a plea for better UX testing to combat the scourge of the inaccurate pad layout, to which we’d add providing footprints ready-made for all popular CAD packages. These and the rest of his manifesto would be a game-changer, and wouldn’t displace the existing paper or PDF sheet for those who still use them. Whether or not the manufacturers will take heed is anyone’s guess, but to have such an ideal laid out is a start.

If you’re not familiar with [Saar]’s work, you’re in for a treat. Boldport produce some of the most beautiful artistic PCBs, and we’ve featured them before more than once.

Thanks to our colleague [Ted Yapo] for the header image.

The Boldport Cordwood And Cuttlefish, Together As A Guitar Tuner

As regular readers will know, here at Hackaday we are great enthusiasts for the PCB as an art form. On a special level of their own in that arena are the Boldport kits from [Saar Drimer], superlative objets d’art that are beautifully presented and a joy to build.

The trouble some people find with some of their Boldport kits though is that they are just too good. What can you do with them, when getting too busy with hacking them would despoil their beauty? [Paul Gallagher] has the answer in one case, he’s used not one kit but two of them as for a guitar tuner project.

At its heart is a Boldport Cuttlefish ATmega328 development board, and for its display it uses a Cordwood Puzzle as an LED array. All the details are available on a GitHub page, and it’s a modified version of an Arduino guitar tuner he found on Instructables. In particular he’s using a different pre-amp for an electret microphone, and a low-pass filter with a 723Hz cut-off to reduce harmonic content that was confusing the Arduino’s algorithm.

The result is a simple-to-use device with an LED for each string of his guitar, which you can see in the very short YouTube clip below. It joins many other tuners we’ve featured over the years, of which just one is this ATmega168-powered project with MIDI-out.

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Finding The Linear In A Laser

If your path has taken you through any work with hi-fi audio, you will be aware of the effects of distortion on sound quality. The tiniest non-linearity in a component can ruin the result, and people who work at the extreme end of the hi-fi spectrum will go to impossible lengths to chase the tiniest percentages of distortion that no human could possibly hear.

[Monta Elkins] has a Boldport kit, the Lite2Sound, which as its name suggests translates a light level to an audio signal. Given a laser diode and a source of country music from his Amazon Echo then, perhaps he could transmit the sound across a beam of laser light. And given that the Lite2Sound is an all-analogue device so unless it incorporates a low-pass filter it might struggle with PWM, to achieve that feat he would have to modulate the country music directly onto the laser light.

In the video below he shows us how he characterised his laser diode by plotting its VI curve on an oscilloscope, and identified its most linear region. He was then able to supply a voltage in the middle of that region, and simply overlay the line level audio from the Echo through an RC network. The result is a successful transmission of music via laser that sounds OK, though we’d find it interesting to see what an audio analyser would make of it. We’d also be interested to know whether the VI curve also maps to the same profile in the light intensity, we suspect the answer would be “close enough”.

So laser wireless audio can be done, and anyone who points out that the same feat could have been achieved with Bluetooth is spoiling the fun. After all, what’s a hi-fi without Frickin’ lasers!

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Flashing An LED The Widlar Way

Regular Hackaday readers will be familiar with the work of Boldport’s [Saar Drimer] in creating beauty in printed circuit board design. A recent work of his is the Widlar, a tribute to the legendary integrated circuit designer [Bob Widlar] in the form of a development board for his μA723 voltage regulator chip.

The μA723 is a kit of parts from which almost any regulator configuration can be made, but for [tardate]  it represented a challenge. The μA723 is so versatile that what you can create is only limited by the imagination of the builder. Having done the ordinary before, [tardate] looked toward something unconventional.

The result is modest, a simple LED flasher using the error amplifier as a not-very-good op-amp, building an oscillator at a frequency of about 2 Hz. This is pretty neat and if you are used to the NE555 as the universal integrated circuit, perhaps it’s time to set it aside for the obviously far-more-useful μA723.

Here at Hackaday we harbour at least one fan of the μA723, not to mention also of artful PCBs. If the Widlar looks familiar, we featured the switch mode regulator from the μA723 data sheet on it a few months ago.

Disclosure: [Jenny List] wrote the documentation for Boldport’s Widlar kit.

Building Beautiful Boards With Star Simpson

Over the last decade or so, the cost to produce a handful of custom PCBs has dropped through the floor. Now, you don’t have to use software tied to one fab house – all you have to do is drop an Eagle or KiCad file onto an order form and hit ‘submit’.

With this new found ability, hackers and PCB designers have started to build beautiful boards. A sheet of FR4 is no longer just a medium to populate parts, it’s a canvas to cover in soldermask and silkscreen.

Over the last year, Star Simpson has been working on a project to make electronic art a reality. Her Circuit Classics take the original art from Forrest Mims’ Getting Started In Electronics notebooks and turn them into functional PCBs. It’s a kit, an educational toy, and a work of art on fiberglass, all in one.

At the 2016 Hackaday Superconference, Star gave her tips and tricks for producing beautiful PCBs. There’s a lot going on here, from variable thickness soldermasks, vector art on a silkscreen, and even multicolored boards that look more at home in an art gallery than an electronics workbench.

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Hackaday Links: It’s Mother’s Day And You Forgot

[AvE] noticed someone was having trouble with their Nepeploid Shilden Inversker, and after a sinusoidal lambda deplanarization test, noticed the dinglebop wouldn’t pass through the grumbo. [AvE] is probably just some guy who wears overalls to bed, but he does know a polyfractal magnetorestrictor when he sees one. To wit, he has a novel application of Eularian magnetronics resulting in a friction factor over unityGame changing stuff here, from the guy who brought you the beer stein made out of an oil filter.

It was soft launched at the Midwest RepRap Festival this year, and now Lulzbot’s TAZ 6 is finally out. The biggest new feature? The electronics ‘brain box’ holds everything, including the power supply. This tower of brain box makes the Taz 6 harder to build from source, but there are unconfirmed reports that Lulzbot may sell this brainbox separately.

Boldport, and founder [Saar Drimer] are the cream of the crop when it comes to artistic PCBs. Boldport’s catalog and [Saar]’s portfolio include a tribute to [Bob Pease], a beautiful board with multicolor solder masks, and an emergency business card. Now Boldport is doing a beautiful PCB of the month club. It’s called Boldport Club, and each three-month membership gets you three months of pretty PCBs. The shop will also stop taking orders for the Boldport club 25 hours after this post goes live. If you missed the boat on the club, you can still get in on the pretty PCB action – we have the Boldport cordwood puzzle available in the Hackaday store.

The Apple IIgs was the last gasp of the Apple II before that platform was phased out for the Macintosh. Despite being mostly forgotten, except for thousands of units in middle school computer labs until the 2000s, it was a very interesting machine, with a wavetable synth, real multitasking, a GUI, and very high resolution graphics. After 30-odd years the IIgs now has quadraphonic sound. The 4soniq card was introduced at the WOzFest III conference last month, and it will give an Apple IIgs with four channels of audio output.

There’s a lot of stuff happening next weekend, and Hackaday is going to be there. If you’re at the Maker Faire Bay Area, Hackaday is taking over a pub. It’s on Saturday night, so it doesn’t conflict with the bring-a-hack at an undisclosed location on Sunday night. Me? I’m going to hamvention, mostly for the purposes of documenting the two parking lots full of swap meet. Find me and I’ll get you some Hackaday swag.

Boldport Tribute To Bob Pease

We have lost something in PCB design over the last few decades. If you open up a piece of electronics from the 1960s you’ll see why. A PCB from that era is a thing of beauty, an organic mass of curving traces, an expression of the engineer’s art hand-crafted in black crêpe paper tape on transparent acetate. Now by comparison a PCB is a functional drawing of precise angles and parallel lines created in a CAD package, and though those of us who made PCBs in both eras welcome the ease of software design wholeheartedly we have to admit; PCBs just ain’t pretty any more.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. Notable among the rebels are Boldport, whose latest board, a tribute to the late linear IC design legend [Bob Pease], slipped out this month. They use their own PCBmodE design software to create beautiful boards as works of art with the flowing lines you’d expect from a PCB created the old-fashioned way.

The board itself is an update to an earlier Boldport design, and features Pease’s LM331 voltage to frequency converter IC converting light intensity to frequency and flashing an LED. It’s one of the application circuits from the datasheet with a little extra to drive the LED. Best of all the kit is a piece of open-source hardware, so you can find all its resources on GitHub.

We are fans of Boldport’s work here at Hackaday, and it should come as no surprise that we have featured them before. From one of their other kits through several different pieces of PCB wall art, to their work making an appearance in Marie Claire magazine they have graced these pages several times, and we hope this latest board will be one of many more.