Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Breaking Radio Silence, and Embedded Control Motivation Speech.

I haven't posted in a long time. Apologies all around. But I have a relatively good excuse set for all of my readers.

1. I've been busy creating some really cool electronics projects that I'm gonna release soon.
2. I've been busy cycling, and practicing Kung Fu.
3. I've been spending too many late nights at yo mom's house. OHH!

Anyway, here's some content:

I've been working a lot lately with the Atmega168 microcontroller. This, if you didn't already know, is the heart of the famous embedded control development platform Arduino.

The Atmega168 microcontroller.

The World Famous Arduino Prototyping Platform.

This chip has the ability to run code from the user, and interface with a multitude of sensors, systems, and other components. Basically, with the right insight, someone could design almost anything to run from chips like these.

I've been using the Atmega168 for a while now as my go-to chip for embedded control applications in the field. It comes in a surface mount package as well as a through-hole DIP chip that allows for breadboarding and prototyping with standard perfboard circuitry. The Atmega168 makes a great embedded chip for devices as it is cheap (~$4 US), and consumes very little power. With the DIY embedded control movement focused around the Arduino in full swing, interested people everywhere are discovering how easily and quickly they can create full functional automated systems in just a number of hours.

However, the idea of putting an entire Arduino in a box forever is a little unnecessary, as the core functionality of this unit for a permanent application can be replaced with just the chip, and a power regulation circuit. The user-friendly nature of the Arduino has attracted many newcomers to feel comfortable with creating their first embedded control projects. However, if people realized that creating an embedded control system from scratch was as easy as it is, I think more people would use the chip by itself to create their own inexpensive inventions! All it takes is to power the chip properly and add a programming header. The chip can then be programmed in the circuit using this header and an AVR programmer. I use the AVR ISP MKII.

The AVR ISP (In Service Programmer) MKII. My weapon of choice for programming Atmegas.

This method of creating embedded control systems takes some of the mystery out of using Arduino libraries, as you can program the chip directly in C. I use AVR Studio to program my atmegas. There are plenty of tutorials out there for beginners. I highly recommend the Sparkfun Beginning Embedded Electronics Tutorials. With these tools and resources, you will find that with a little bit of perseverance you too can create awesome inventions!

Now, an embedded control circuit is only as good as what you interface it with. For some circuits, you may simply want to monitor some sensor and display the value. For this, it is relatively easy to integrate your computer with the microcontroller via serial communication. The sparkfun tutorials will guide you through this if you are interested. None of the computers I use have serial ports, so I use a Keyspan USB to Serial Adapter. The chip that runs the Keyspan device is the FTDI FT232RL Serial to USB chip, and Sparkfun also sells a barebones breakout of this chip that can interface directly to the microcontroller, allowing fast and cheap USB connectivity. For other circuits however, you may not want to have to have a computer interfacing with it whenever you want to get data from your system. For times like these, I have turned to a visual indication system via LCD readout. For the LCD, I have used the standard HD44780 or equivalent. These can be found on sparkfun, and are relatively cheap (~$15 US).

A 2 x 16 Character HD44780 equivalent LCD Display

I have used this combination of Atmega168 and HD44780 so often in fact, that I have recently put together a prototype for a board that does power regulation, pin routing, and LCD integration with the Atmega168. I call it The LCDuino, and I look to have this board for sale in the future if I get enough interest. The board comes with a row of holes at the bottom that can be soldered to. If a header is soldered into one of the rows, the unit can be pressed into a breadboard for rapid prototyping, and then soldered with flying wires for a more permanent installation.

The Electromagics LCDuino V1.0!

Back of the LCDuino!

LCDuino at Night!

This board will be released in more detail very soon on my website, including PCB layouts, Schematics, source code, and more photos. Solder one of these units up though, and you have a fully functional embedded control system with back lit LCD readout for under 20 dollars of components!

Alright, I'm out, but there's more to come soon!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Casper Electronics Echo Bender

Hey readers! I've been hard at work on the website and products I'm selling! I've got a new DIY page up on the site that will give free tutorials on how to make everything I sell as well as general production techniques and knowledge base I've picked up in the past and future months. One of things I've been really excited about today is that the first orders of headphone / preamps from the site shipped! I'll update all of this soon (tomorrow) with some more details. For now, please check out my friends over at casperelectronics and check out the hot new enclosure we cooked up for you with the Echo Bender V2!

Doesn't that look sick!?

These pedals are incredible. I love range of sounds you can get from them. These should go on pre-order soon for $300. Details at Casperelectronics.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Oh man, collaboration is awesome. Hard at work these days with many a project and task on hand. Some "Liquid Tin" came in today, and let me just say, I'm extremely impressed. I'll post pictures as progress develops. I need to get in the habit of documenting everything, as I'm finding now it is insanely helpful whenever I do.

Headline: Ghost Train gives Electromagics "The Hook-Up" with this installment of absolutely sick enclosure art:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Impression Felt

Oh it's such a beautiful day
And all the stars will be coming out tonight
And there's so much I want to say to you
But I know that it won't come out right
But you and I are tied in some way
In fact, we might be one in the same
Instead of individuals maybe we're just tentacles
In some fifth-dimensional squid or something...

But when I'm sitting across from you
I can feel it spinning, can you feel it too?
It's nice to know that we were born to die
I can't explain it, but you know I'll try
Wait, hold on, I'll try
Look at the sky we agree it's blue!
But what I see as blue might be red to you
We call it the same because we talk
Do we think the same because we talk?
Or maybe we think in similar ways
Because of whats in our DNA
But either way it don't explain
why our families think we're strange

I think it strange to say that we're alone
When we're so many different people everyday
In your head I bet there's a whole town's worth of folk
Please listen to what they each have to say
I hope that tomorrow's better than today.
And I hope the best is saved for the day after that.
But the day after that day I hope that it rains.
Because the good aint good unless you get the bad.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Website Skeletons

It's official, Electromagics has sold out. Or rather, will be selling out fast its future-supply of handmade pocket-sized electric guitar / bass / mic preamp / headphone amps! It's a mad dash to see who will be the lucky ones to be able to get the very first product from Electromagics, and who will be left with the bitter taste of regret on their lips! Pre-Order incentives include reduced price, and a mystery gift! All headphone amps come with custom art ON THE BOX, which will vary from amp to amp. The flavor of awesome may vary from piece to piece, but the potency will be uniformly deadly for the whole batch! Manifest Destiny already, and make your cubicle mates super jealous when you start busting facemelting solos or hip-slithering basslines with business casual consideration.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Grind Time

Alright! I have been away loving readers, for far too long! Been on my grind in a very real sense, working with Pete Edwards of Casperelectronics, designing some circuitry for some very cool and ridiculous sounding electronic effects. Pete is a custom electronics designer, with over 10 years of experience, mainly dealing with circuit bending. The stuff we're making is really awesome, and will be on sale through his website. I've been working hard on the headphone amp project as well, completing a production model prototype! I am currently taking orders for these sweet devices, which I will be creating full documentation and advertisement for in the near term, with online sales becoming available by the end of the week. In the meantime, you can order one by emailing me. Here's a bit of a teaser shot of an unlabeled completed model. It sounds sweet!

Yeaaaah Boyeee

Short post for now, but with more updates coming soon!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Business As Unusual

Success and Adventures! The last week has been so eventful, that I couldn't even find the time to blog about it. I know! Finished up a long overdue project for Ecovative Design, rode my bike a lot, and even got a break from the rain enough to get a bit of a sunburn. I had excellent visitors over the week, who made delicious food, touching music, and enjoyable conversation. Life's real good.


The 4th passed with a great many explosions which I viewed from an incredibly short distance in Albany, where the crowd was treated to some up-close-and-personal fireworks in Empire State Plaza. (The fireworks were actually going off within the space enclosed by the surrounding buildings.) Bike Polo was a blast, and the consecutive rides to and from Albany have reminded me that I need to start training more for distance cycling.

Bike Polo: As Fun As It Is Difficult

I put together an order for the headphone amp project, and the production components should be arriving tomorrow, so I'll be able to see very soon if my CAD model predictions are really up to snuff. I also want to figure out the details behind creating a photo-etching station for the mass manufacturing of the headphone amp PCB's (Printed Circuit Boards). This will surely prove to be an interesting and potentially caustic / carcinogenic endeavor, as the station will expose treated copper-plated silicon boards with intense UV light, and then I will be submersing these boards in acid. More Updates on this to come! Here's a PCB I've laid out, but haven't made or tested yet: