Sunday, March 10, 2013

Simple But Useful "Tools and Tricks"


I thought that I might share some of the simple tools that I find fairly useful.  These are cheap and dirty solutions that are really just tailored toward prototyping / experimenting.

Output Tester

This is a tool that everybody probably uses.  I just made it a little more convenient by soldering the components.
I have about ten of these, varying in color and space between the pins.  I just trim the cathode and one end of a 330 or 220 ohm resistor and solder them together.  I find them particularly handy when troubleshooting circuits with shift registers.  For example, I recently implemented a clock using some spare parts I had lying around, a Raspberry Pi, and a little C.  It consisted of: 4 shift registers, 4 7-segment LEDs, and other trivial components.  4 shift registers in series gives you 32 pseudo DO from 3 DO (I say pseudo because you are using only three DO from the Raspberry Pi to get 32 DO).
Oh, the wires

Homemade Rails

I like to use these mini breadboards a lot because they allow me to compartmentalize different parts of a total circuit.  They also snap together, which is great for when you want to put everything together.  However, they do not have any power rails.  In order to tie a whole bunch of things to ground I would need to run wires for each object.  A few male headers, a piece of stranded wire, and a little solder works great for a rail.
I think I originally created this when working with the speakJet, which calls for all of the event inputs to be grounded in the basic circuit (that's the entire left side of the 18 pin chip).  I could have just stuck that side in the rail, but it would not have been as neat.  As I continued on I started finding this very handy in eliminating jumpers to the ground bar.  If you saw the ATtiny85 EEPROM you may have noticed that I used it there.

Swiss Machine Pin Female Headers

These are extremely handy, especially because they are break-away.
Obviously they work just as female headers, but alternative they can be used as DIP sockets.  Normally I would not do this in a solderless breadboard (since these chips can go right into them), but I wanted to get a clean picture.
They can also be used to straighten the pins on new chips.  Just break away, or don't, the correct number for the number of pins on you chip and apply a little pressure (best done to both sides at a time).

IC Labeling without labeler

I salvage a lot of parts from discarded electronics.  A lot of times it is nearly impossible to read the markings on the top of chips, no matter what light I put it in, what angle I hold it at,  or if I use a magnifying glass.  After struggling with it once I never want to do it again.  A white paint marker and a fine tipped Sharpie work great for marking the top of chips and this way I don't have to struggle.

Coming soon (possibly)

Please let me know if anyone would like to see a post on the clock shown above.  I actually put a little bit of time into that.
Use of an ATtiny85 with a rotary encoder.

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