Clock Testing Sans Oscilloscope?

Like many people who repair stuff, [Learn Electronics Repair] has an oscilloscope. But after using it to test a motherboard crystal oscillator, he started thinking about how people who don’t own a scope might do the same kind of test. He picked up a frequency counter/crystal tester kit that was quite inexpensive — under $10. He built it, and then tried it to see how well it would work in-circuit.

The kit has an unusual use of 7-segment displays to sort-of display words for menus. There is a socket to plug in a crystal for testing, but that won’t work for the intended application. He made a small extender to simplify connecting crystals even if they are surface mount. He eventually added a BNC socket to the counter input, but at first just wired some test leads directly in.

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Ergo Keyboard Build Issue Becomes Crystal Clear

Somewhere between the onset of annoying hand pain and the feeling of worn-out, mushy switches, [sinbeard]’s keyboard dissatisfaction came to a head. He decided it was time to slip into something bit more ergonomic and settled on building an Iris — a small split keeb with an ortholinear (non-staggered) key arrangement.

The Iris is open source and uses an on-board controller, so you can have the boards fabbed and do a lot of SMD soldering, or get a pair of PCBs with all of that already done. [sinbeard] went the latter route with this build, but there’s still plenty of soldering and assembly to do before it’s time to start clackin’, such as the TRRS jacks, the rotary encoders, and of course, all the switches. It’s a great way for people to get their feet wet when it comes to building keyboards.

Everything went according to plan until it was time to flash the firmware and it didn’t respond. It’s worth noting that both of the Iris PCBs are the same, and both are fully populated. This is both good and bad.

It’s bad you have two on-board microcontrollers and their crystals to worry about instead of one. It’s good because there’s a USB port on both sides so you can plug in whichever side you prefer, and this comes in mighty handy if you have to troubleshoot.

When one side’s underglow lit up but not the other, [sinbeard] busted out the ISP programmer. But in the end, he found the problem — a dent in the crystal — by staring at the board. A cheap replacement part and a little hot air rework action was all it took to get this Iris to bloom.

Want to build a keyboard but need a few more keys? Check out the dactyl and the ErgoDox.

A Simple Science Fair AM Transmitter

A crystal radio is a common enough science fair project, but the problem is, there isn’t much on anymore. The answer is, of course, obvious: build your own AM transmitter, too. AM modulation isn’t that hard to do and [Science Buddies] has plans for how to build one with a canned oscillator and an audio transformer.

We don’t imagine the quality of this would be so good, but for a kid’s science project it might be worth a shot. Maybe something like “What kind of materials block radio waves?” would be a good project statement.

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A PIC And A Few Passives Support Breakout In Glorious NTSC Color

“Never Twice the Same Color” may be an apt pejorative, but supporting analog color TV in the 1950s without abandoning a huge installed base of black-and-white receivers was not an option, and at the end of the day the National Television Standards System Committee did an admirable job working within the constraints they were given.

As a result of the compromises needed, NTSC analog signals are not the easiest to work with, especially when you’re trying to generate them with a microcontroller. This PIC-based breakout-style game manages to accomplish it handily, though, and with a minimal complement of external components. [Jacques] undertook this build as an homage to both the classic Breakout arcade game and the color standard that would drive the home version of the game. In addition to the PIC12F1572 and a crystal oscillator, there are only a few components needed to generate the chroma and luminance signals as well as horizontal and vertical sync. The game itself is fairly true to the original, although a bit twitchy and unforgiving judging by the gameplay video below. [Jacques] has put all the code and schematics up on GitHub for those who wish to revive the analog glory days.

Think NTSC is weird compared to PAL? You’re right, and it’s even weirder than you might know. [Matt] at Stand Up Maths talked about it a while back, and it turns out that a framerate of 29.97 fps actually makes sense when you think it through.

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Understanding The Quartz Crystal Resonator

Accurate timing is one of the most basic requirements for so much of the technology we take for granted, yet how many of us pause to consider the component that enables us to have it? The quartz crystal is our go-to standard when we need an affordable, known, and stable clock frequency for our microprocessors and other digital circuits. Perhaps it’s time we took a closer look at it.

The first electronic oscillators at radio frequencies relied on the electrical properties of tuned circuits featuring inductors and capacitors to keep them on-frequency. Tuned circuits are cheap and easy to produce, however their frequency stability is extremely affected by external factors such as temperature and vibration. Thus an RF oscillator using a tuned circuit can drift by many kHz over the period of its operation, and its timing can not be relied upon. Long before accurate timing was needed for computers, the radio transmitters of the 1920s and 1930s needed to stay on frequency, and considerable effort had to be maintained to keep a tuned-circuit transmitter on-target. The quartz crystal was waiting to swoop in and save us this effort.

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Oscillator Design By Simulation

[Craig] wanted to build a 19.2 MHz crystal oscillator. He knew he wanted a Pierce oscillator, but he also knew that getting a good design is often a matter of trial and error. He used a 30-day trial of a professional simulation package, Genesys from Keysight, to look at the oscillator’s performance without having to build anything. He not only did a nice write up about his experience, but he also did a great video walkthrough (see below).

The tool generates a sample schematic, although [Craig] deleted it and put his own design into the simulator. By running simulations, he was able to look at the oscillator’s performance. His first cut showed that the circuit didn’t meet the Barkhausen criteria and shouldn’t oscillate. Unfortunately, his prototype did, in fact, oscillate.

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Designing A Crystal Ladder Bandpass Filter

Most hobbyists use crystals as an external clock signal for a microcontroller. A less common use would be to make a bandpass filter (BPF) for an RF signal. [Dan Watson] explains his crystal ladder design on his blog and links to several sources for understanding the theory and creating your own crystal ladder band pass filter. If you want a set of these purple PCBs you can order them straight from the purple fab.

[Dan]’s schematic
One of the sources that [Dan] cites is [Larry Benko]’s personal site which is primarily dedicated to amateur radio projects. Which you can find much more in-depth information regarding the design of a xtal BPF. [Larry] goes into detail about the software he uses and some of the applications of crystal ladder filters.

BPF designed by [Larry]
BPF designed by [Larry]
The process includes measuring individual xtals to determine which ones will work together for your target frequency. [Larry] also walks you through the software simulation process using LTSpice. If you aren’t familiar with Spice simulation you can get caught up by checking out the series of Spice articles by our very own [Al Williams].

Thanks to Dangerous Prototypes for the tip.