My niece’s two favorite classes in high school this year are “Intro to AI” and “Ethical Hacking”. (She goes to a much cooler high school than I did!) In “Hacking”, she had an assignment to figure out some bug in some body of code. She was staring and staring, figuring and figuring. She went to her teacher and said she couldn’t figure it out, and he asked her if she’d tried to search for the right keywords on the Internet.
My niece responded “this is homework, and that’d be cheating”, a line she surely must have learned in her previous not-so-cool high school. When the teacher responded with “but doing research is how you learn to do stuff”, my niece was hooked. The class wasn’t abstract or academic any more; it became real. No arbitrary rules. Game on!
But I know how she feels. Whether it’s stubborn independence, or a feeling that I’m cheating, I sometimes don’t do my research first. But attend any hacker talk, where they talk about how they broke some obscure system or pulled off an epic trick. What is the first step? “I looked all over the Internet for the datasheet.” (Video) “I found the SDK and that made it possible.” (Video) “Would you believe this protocol is already documented?” In any serious hack, there’s always ample room for your creativity and curiosity later on. If others have laid the groundwork for you, get on it.
If you have trouble overcoming your pride, or NIH syndrome, or whatever, bear this in mind: the reason we share information with other hackers is to give them a leg up. Whoever documented that protocol did it to help you. Not only is there no shame in cribbing from them, you’re essentially morally obliged to do so. And to say thanks along the way!
Stop me if this sounds familiar. You are interested in 3D printing but lacked a clear idea of what was involved. Every time you looked into it, it returned to the back burner because after spending your limited free time researching, it still looked like a part time job just to get up to speed on the basics. If this is you, then you’re exactly the reason I say the following: despite 3D printing being more accessible than ever, getting started remains harder than it needs to be. It’s a shame, because there are smart, but busy, people just waiting for that to change.
A highly technical friend and colleague of mine had, off and on, been interested in 3D printing for some time. He had questions, but also didn’t have a very good understanding of the basics because it’s clumsy and time-consuming to research something when one doesn’t even know the right terms.
I told him to video call me. Using my phone I showed him the everyday process, from downloading a model to watching the first layer get put down by the printer. He had researched getting started before, but our call was honestly the first time he had ever seen a 3D printer’s actual workflow, showing hands-on what was involved from beginning to end. It took less than twenty minutes to give him a context into which he could fit everything else, and from where he felt comfortable seeking more information. I found out later, when I politely inquired whether he had found our talk useful, that he had ordered a Prusa MK3S printer later that same day.
It got me thinking. What from our call was important and useful, but not available elsewhere? And why not?
Continue reading “3D Printering: Getting Started Is (Still) Harder Than It Needs To Be”
ESP32 is the hottest new wireless chip out there, offering both WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy radios rolled up with a dual-core 32-bit processor and packed with peripherals of every kind. We got some review sample dev boards, Adafruit and Seeed Studio had them in stock for a while, and AI-Thinker — the company that makes the most popular ESP8266 modules — is starting up full-scale production on October 1st. This means that some of you have the new hotness in your hands right now, and the rest of you aren’t going to have to wait more than a few more weeks.
As we said in our first-look review of the new chip, many things are in a state of flux on the software side, but the basic process of writing, compiling, and flashing code to the chip is going to remain stable. It’s time to start up some tutorials!
Continue reading “How To Get Started With The ESP32”
So you’re looking to buy your first 3D printer, and your index finger is quivering over that 300 US Dollar printer on Amazon.com. Stop! You’re about to have a bad time. 3D printing has come a long way, but most 3D printers are designed through witchcraft, legends, and tall tales rather than any rigorous engineering process. I would say most 3D printer designs are either just plain bad, or designed by a team of Chinese engineers applying all their ingenuity to cost cutting. There are a few that are well designed, and there is a comparatively higher price tag attached.
I’ll start by going through some of the myths and legends that show up in 3D printers. After that I’ll go through some of the common, mostly gimmick, features that typically hinder your printer’s ability, rather than adding any useful function. Next I’ll go onto the things that will actually make your printer better. Finally, I’ll add some special consideration if you’re a beginner buying your first printer.
Continue reading “Kicking The Tires Before You Buy: 3d Printers”
The workbench. We’re always looking for ways to make the most out of the tools we have, planning our next equipment purchase, all the while dealing with the (sometimes limited) space we’re allotted. Well, before you go off and build your perfect electronics lab, this forum thread on the EEVblog should be your first stop for some extended
You’ll find a great discussion about everything from workbench height, size, organization, shelf depth, and lighting, with tons of photos to go with it. You’ll also get a chance to peek at how other people have set up their labs. (Warning, the thread is over 1000 posts long, so you might want to go grab a snack.)
We should stop for a moment and give a special note to those of you who are just beginning in electronics. You do not need to have a fancy setup to get started. Most of these well equipped labs is the result of being in the industry for years and years. Trust us when we say, you can get started in electronics with nothing more than your kitchen table, a few tools, and a few parts. All of us started that way. So don’t let anything you see here dissuade you from jumping in. As proof, we’ve seen some amazingly professional work being done with the most bare-bones of tools (and conversely, we seen some head-scratching projects by people with +$10,000 of dollars of equipment on their desk.)
Here’s some links that you might find handy when setting up a lab. [Kenneth Finnegan] has a great blog post on how his lab is equipped. And [Dave Jones] of the EEVblog has a video covering the basics. One of the beautiful things about getting started in electronics is that used and vintage equipment can really stretch your dollars when setting up a lab. So if you’re looking into some vintage gear, head on over to the Emperor of Test Equipment. Of course no thread about workbenches would be complete with out a mention of Jim Williams’ desk. We’ll leave the discussion about workbench cleanliness for the comments.
Are you looking for a good source of information to get started into making and hacking electric circuits? We would like to refer you to Lessons in Electric Circuits. Even if you have good knowledge of electronics, this is another tool you can use. The book is a work in progress and will have some incomplete and pending areas, but the basic theory parts to get started are all there. It has six volumes: DC, AC, Semiconductors, Digital, Reference, and Experiments. The DC and AC volumes are the most complete. If your eyes are already glazing over thinking you already know all of this stuff, then the most interesting volume for you may be the Experiments, which contains a number of sample circuits like transistor amplifiers and 555 timer circuits. The best part of this book it that it is free, but as with most free things, you can make it better by contributing.
Via Adafruit Industries.