I've been so busy lately I haven't had time to blog on here. I've been spending most of my energy trying to get my video blog and website up and running -- and everything has been going pretty smoothly. I already have a couple (unofficial) endorsements. SchmartBoard have kindly sent me their entire line of SMT to DIP boards for review, and they're also giving away prizes to 5 of my lucky viewers! If you're interested in participating, keep an eye out over at http://frozenelectronics.com for details on how to enter! I will most likely be doing a live draw or a trivia competition of some sort to try and encourage my viewers to learn something new about electronics!
So far this experience has been really fun! Really, that's all I've been aiming for. I spend most of my days working on my electronics bench anyway, so I figured why not turn a camera on and talk about what I'm learning? Sometimes I just sit down and put all my projects aside, and decide to breadboard something new. That's how my basic DDS Generator was born -- such a very simple design! All you need is an AVR and some sort of DAC chip. I happened to have a DAC breakout that came with an FPGA development board I have, and it worked perfectly. You can check the project post out here!
Also, a large company that makes, among other things, logic analyzers has recently e-mailed me back hinting at the fact that I might get to review a product from their new line when they get released sometime in the non-specific future. So that's really cool! I'm trying really hard to get some momentum going with this project. Even if nobody checks it out, I'm still doing it for me, as blogging about the stuff I'm working on often helps me think things through. It also helps me come up with new ideas.
One of the bigger projects I'm working on is called the 'Frozen Board' -- which I'm unofficially calling the 'anti-Arduino'. Not that I'm against Arduino -- quite the opposite, I think they can be great for beginners/hobbyists that don't want to take things further than playing with an Arduino. But for those, who like me, got into this 'hobby' intending to turn it into a career, it's very important to learn industry-standard C, and also have a good understanding of logic, microcontrollers, soldering, etc. I'm trying to aim it at as broad a demographic as possible. I would like for those who do electronics as a hobby to see this board and think, "Hey, that would be a great way to introduce my nephew so-and-so to electronics!" Or for someone to think, "I've always wanted to get more into digital electronics. This kit is well-priced and comes with great documentation!"
So the Frozen Board comes either assembled (for complete beginners), semi-assembled with only SMT parts mounted, (for intermediate-beginners), or completely disassembled (for those wanting to learn some basic SMT soldering skills, or for advanced users).I will also offer a few different packages; a basic one will just contain the board and a few components (resistors, LEDs, and maybe a couple caps or buttons). The deluxe package will contain the board, lots of components (resistors, caps, LEDs, buttons, potentiometers, 7400 series logic chips, possibly a separate DAC or temperature sensor), and there will also be an option to add a breadboard and breadboard leads if the user doesn't already own one. I was considering making the breadboard a part of the package, but it will just add cost and there will probably only be a small portion of the audience that wants the extras. My goal is to make it as customizable as possible, while still making manufacture, packing and shipping as easy as possible (because it will likely be me doing it all myself).
The board features an AVR ATtiny13A/ATtiny85 (they are interchangeable in the through-hole version). The choice of what microcontroller to use can be an important one in a project like this; but I think AVRs are a great way to go. I love PICs as well, but I really feel that Atmel Studio 6 is a much easier IDE to approach as a complete novice. It's a fairly clean, simple interface that has a lot of great, easy to use features built-in. Plus, programming and debugging is much easier to do. Also, I've been pouring my mind and body into writing the documentation, which will take the reader through assembling the board (for the units that come disassembled), through an introduction to microcontrollers, to the first few lessons on C. Of course, the first lesson is the stereotypical 'blink an LED', although in this case I tried to spice it up a bit by having all three on-board LEDs flash in a rotating pattern. This program will come pre-programmed so that applying power will make it immediately apparent if the board is working properly. The source code is picked apart section by section, explaining the important parts and saving the more complex pieces for later chapters.
After the first chapter, which introduces the basic concepts of programming an AVR with C, the next chapter moves on to logic chips and interfacing with other peripherals. The concepts of serial and parallel communications are introduced; there are sections on UART, I2C, SPI and JTAG. Personally, I had a much easier time using UART and SPI when I was learning, so this chapter focuses on using those to achieve a basic task -- using SPI to set a real-time clock module, or communicating with and reading the data from a sensor. These are much easier to implement in C than most beginners think. There will also be a focus on using the ADC to read analog values into memory. This chapter really explores the concept of internal registers, and how they are used to control all of the built-in peripherals in most microcontrollers.
The third chapter and lesson takes the concepts learned so far and implements them in a slightly more complex project -- creating tones and/or noise through an 8-ohm speaker using either just the microcontroller, or in conjunction with a DAC chip. Perhaps using PWM to alter the output of a 555 timer -- some sort of hack on the Atari Punk Console.
Anyway, I'm trying to keep the content interesting and engaging. If I do some sort of Kickstarter, the hardware will probably be the easy part -- most of the cost will be in creating longer and more thorough documentation. Who knows? It might even end up as a book. I'm enjoying writing it so far, and I've been trying to take my time and make sure everything flows smoothly. I'll be conducting beta tests with friends; also, a few lucky viewers of my channel will end up with pre-production units in their hands! I think the feedback from real users will be extremely important. I'm trying to use my own experiences learning to try and polish everything and keep it all coherent, but I have to remember that everyone learns differently and they are all looking for different things. There's more information on the state of the project (which will be updated regularly, hopefully) over the website!
Enough blabbing -- please do me a huge favour and subscribe, like or favourite videos over at my YouTube channel! Subscribers really help motivate me and also help me gain more visibility in the YouTube community. I'd really, really appreciate it!
Thanks for reading! Hope to see you/hear from you guys!