Tag Archive | "kit review"

Kit Review – SC/Jaycar Garbage and Recycling Reminder

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in January 2013 they published the “Garbage Recycling Reminder” by John Clarke. Jaycar picked it up and now offers a kit, the subject of our review. This kit solves the old but recurring (for some) problem – which bin to put out, and when!

The kit offers a simple way of keeping track of the bin schedule, and is suitable for up to four bins. With a simple user-interface consisting of a button and LED for each bin – once setup the reminder can easily be used by anyone. It allows for weekly, fortnightly and alternate fortnights – which is perfect for almost every council’s schedule.

Assembly

The kit arrives in typical Jaycar fashion:

and includes everything you need, including an enclosure, front panel sticker and battery:

 The PCB is well done, and routed nicely to fit inside the enclosure:

Now to get started. The instructions included are a reprint of the magazine article, and as Jaycar have modified the kit a little, their notes and photos are also included. However there isn’t anything to worry about.

Assembly is straight-forward, the only annoying thing was the assumption that the constructor will use off-cuts for jumper links. Instead – use your own header pins:

Furthermore, when soldering in the resistors and 1N914 diodes next to the LEDs – leave them floating so you can move them a bit to make way for the LEDs:

This is also a good time to check the buttons line up with the holes drilled into the front panel (a template is included with the instructions):

At this point you can fit the LEDs to the PCB, and carefully match it up with the drilled lid. You are supplied with a red, green, yellow and blue LED – which generally match the bin lid colours from various councils. Screw the PCB into the lid then solder the LEDs in – after double-checking they protrude out of lid. Then insert the battery and make a final test:

If you made it that far, you can apply the sticker included to illustrate the front panel. To save time we cut the sticker up for a minimalist look. However you now need to set-up the jumpers before closing the box up. There is a set of three pins for each bin, and a jumper can bridge the first two or last two pins, or none. If you don’t bridge them – that bin is weekly. If you bridge the first two – that bin is fortnightly from the setup day. If you bridge the last two – that bin is fortnightly from the next week, for example:

So you can easily set it up for a weekly bin and an alternating-fortnight pair of bins. Once you’ve setup the jumpers, screw up the box and you’re done.

Operation

Once you’ve set the jumpers up as described earlier, you just need to execute the programming function at the time you want the reminders to start every week. For example, if your weekly collection is 4 AM on a Thursday – do the programming around 5pm Wednesday night – that will then be the time the LEDs start blinking. When you put out the appropriate bin, press the button below the matching bin LED to stop the blinking. You can control the number of bins – so if you only have two bins, only two LEDs will activate. The blinking period is eighteen hours, and you can adjust the start time via the buttons.

How it works

The circuit is based around a Microchip PIC16LF88 and has an incredibly low current draw, around 15 uA when the LEDs aren’t blinking. This allows the circuit to run for over two years on the included 3v coin cell battery. The internal clock is kept accurate to around 10 minutes per year using an external 32.768 kHz crystal. After a period of use the battery voltage may drop to a level insufficient to adequately power the LEDs, so each one has a voltage doubler by way of a diode and capacitor – very clever. This ensures LED brightness even with a low battery. For complete details purchase the kit or a copy of the January 2013 edition of Silicon Chip.

Now it sits next to the kettle, waiting for bin night…

Conclusion

Personally I needed this kit, so I’m a little biased towards it. However – it’s simple and it works. Kudos to John Clarke for his project. You can purchase it from Jaycar and their resellers, or read more about it in the January 2013 edition of Silicon Chip. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in electronics, garbage bin reminder, jaycar, KC5518, kit review, pic, silicon chip, tutorialComments (6)

Kit Review – adafruit industries TV-B-Gone

[Updated 17/01/2013]

In this review we examine an easy to build kit from adafruit industries that offers literally hours and hours of fun, if you like to get up to some mischief – the TV-B-Gone. This fascinating little device is basically an infra-red remote control for televisions and some monitors. It has a microcontroller programmed with the “off” code for a wide range of display brands, and four very strong infra-red transmitting LEDs, two with a wide beam, and two with a narrow but longer beam.

Here is the little culprit in standard assembled form:

11

It is a very easy kit to assemble, once again the team at adafruit have published an extensive amount of information, from assembly tutorials to how it works, and even the design itself as the kit is open-source hardware. So in this article you can follow the assembly, and use of this bag of fun.

As usual, this kit arrives in a resealable, anti-static bag. After ensuring I had the correct parts, from the documentation on the adafruit website, it was time to follow the simple instructions and start getting it together. Now this will be the second time I have built a TV-B-Gone… the first one is in the photo above, and had me removed from a department store (thanks Myer…) – so this time I am rebuilding it to fit inside a typical baseball cap.

Soldering it was quite simple, the PCB is solder-masked and has a very well detailed silk-screen:

21

Just following the instructions, and being careful not to rush is the key. Another feature of adafruit kits is that the are designed very well with regards to troubleshooting. For example, you have the opportunity to test it before finishing. So at this stage you can fit the AA cells and power it up, if the LED blinks you’re all good:

3s

And we’re done… almost.

4s

For installation into the hat, the button and the LEDs will need to be a distance away from the PCB. At this stage I was not sure where to put the button, so for now it can stay on the side of the cap:

5s

Naturally you can use any momentary push button, however I will use the included example (above) with a length of wire. With this style of hat, especially a black one, slight bulges underneath the surface do not seem that apparent, however it is wiser to spread out the entire unit:

6s

Although thinner AAA cells could be used for the power supply, for a good day’s action you will want the extra capacity of AA cells, so we’ll stick with them for now. The next step was to wire up the LEDs. They were connected individually to the PCB with lengths of wire, and heatshrink was used to insulate and darken the legs:

7s

 

8s

9s

And finally the finished product, ready for insertion into a piece of clothing, or in our case – a cap:

10s

At this point it was time to take it for a test toast. The quickest way to test an infra-red transmitter is to look at the LEDs through a digital camera – it can display the infra-red wavelengths whereas the human eye cannot see them. For example:

Those LEDs can get very bright (in infra-red terms), and is also how night-illumination for digital security cameras work. If you had a lot of those LEDs pointing at a security camera at night, you could blind it. That gives me an idea…

Anyway…

Assembling the kit in this format gives you lots of options for hiding it. For example, you could:

  • put the PCB and power in a jacket’s inside pocket, and have the LEDs poke out the neck;
  • place them in a cap as we are;
  • use a large ladies’ handbag, with the LEDs out the top, and the button underneath a handle;
  • sew the LEDs into the head-cover of a hooded jacket (with some longer leads) and have the PCB, power and button in the pockets

So here are the LEDs mounted under the brim of the cap:

11s

If you are going to staple them in, be careful not to puncture the wires. The ends of the staple should come through to the top of the brim – in this case I covered them with black ink from a felt pen so they would blend in. The button lead’s position is down to personal preference, in my case the button is just poking out next to the strap on the back of the cap. So all I need to do is appear to scratch the back of my head to activate the TV-B-Gone.

And here is the finished product, with an unfinished author:

Well by now you want to see it working. So here you are… I went on a field trip wandering about the central business district of Brisbane, Australia:

My apologies for the shaky footage, doing this isn’t something you can really capture with a camera and a tripod. 🙂 The problem was getting close enough, or most places had either covered their IR receiver, had a brand of TV not recognised by the TV-B-Gone, or used a large monitor instead of a television. But it was fun nevertheless.

In conclusion, this is an easy to assemble kit which is fun and certainly will get you into harmless trouble. Again, this is the type of kit that would be good for those who are being introduced to the fascinating world of electronics (etc) as it is quick to build, and does something with the “real world”  that young people love so much. Or anyone else for that matter.

As much fun as it is to switch off televisions and advertising monitors, I would hope that end users will still be responsible with their TV-B-Gone use. Please head into a department store, your favourite eatery, coffee shop or mall and switch off the TVs.  However, please do not turn off displays in railway stations, airports or other places where the authorities will take offence. You will get in real trouble. Or if you’re feeling suicidal, go switch off the TVs at the OTB.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.
[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, kit review, learning electronics, tv-b-goneComments (12)

Kit review – Evil Mad Science Diavolino

[Updated 17/01/2013]

In this review we examine a kit from the people at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories – their Diavolino. In English this means “little devil”. This little devil is a low-cost Arduino Duemilanove compatible board – with a few twists.

This is sold as a bare-bones kit, so you really need to plan ahead with regards to how you want to use it. It does not include a USB interface, nor power socket, header sockets, IC socket, nor a voltage regulator. This may sound like a bad thing – but it is not 🙂 This kit is perfect for those who wish to make a permanent project using the Arduino system, without spending the extra on a whole board, and without the hassles of making your own barebones PCB version. So let’s have a look… the kit ships in a nice reusable anti-static bag:

bagsss

and upon turfing out the contents, one receives:

partsss

Which is just enough to have a basic setup. The instructions on their web site mention the inclusion of some zero-ohm resistors to be used as jumpers, but these were not included. However that is a non-issue, some resistor lead clippings will do the job. EML have gone to a lot of trouble with the printed-circuit board. It certainly is different to the normal green or blue ones out there. It is very well detailed with component position labels, and all components are through-hole. The other side of the board is also printed this way:

rearpcbsss

There is also a nice instruction laminated card included in the bag which has enough information to get your started. Furthermore, there is an excellent instruction manual available for download here (10 MB). Finally, this is an open-source hardware product, so the designers have also made available the gEDA CAD files.

Now for assembly. Normally I would photograph each step, however the instructions available for download are so good, I won’t need to 🙂 Eleven out of ten for the instructions. Soldering it together is quite easy, however I did supply my own IC socket – I am just not a fan of soldering expensive parts (I get the shakes sometimes), however if you are confident, go for it.

Before deciding to permanently solder in that microcontroller, you will first need to take into account how you will be programming it. As the board does not support the usual native USB interfacing, you can’t just plug in the cable like a normal board. The Diavolino does have an interface for a TTL-level cable – so if you have (for example) a USB FTDI cable, you can program it via the USB port. But considering an FTDI cable is around $20, you might as well just buy a normal board like an Eleven instead. It only took around fifteen minutes to get to this stage:

almostsss

For my personal use as another bench-based board  (that sounds a little odd…) I will power it from the FTDI cable, so a link is required behind the TTL input pins – as well as adding the  6-pin and 8-pin header sockets. The easiest way to solder those in is to turn the whole thing upside down and plug it on top of an existing shield, as such:

socketsss

However if you don’t want to buy an FTDI cable – and you already have another Duemilanove board, the cheapest way to program the microcontroller is to just insert it into a  Duemilanove-type board, upload the sketch, then drop the chip into the Diavolino.

You also need to decide on how to power the board. If you supply 4.5~5.5V, all you need is to feed in the power wires. If you are going to use more than 7V, you will need a 78L05 power regulator, 10uF electrolytic capacitor and a DC socket to use a plug-pack if necessary (see the instructions). However, a 78L05 can only supply 100 mA of current (see the data sheet.pdf), so you won’t be able to use some products like a MAX7219 LED driver and many LEDs.

Unfortunately there isn’t enough space for a TO-220 sized 7805 1 amp regulator, so you will need to introduce 5V using an external supply hard-wired into the board if you need more than 100mA of current. Or you can power it from the USB FTDI cable for desktop use.

finishedss

 

So there you have it – another successful kit build. This was an interesting alternative to the Duemilanove, and a great solution for a permanent project, or for someone who wants another board on the cheap. If you can work with the power supply current restrictions, all is well. So get one or more, have fun with it, and give one  to someone else to get them cooking as well.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.
[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in arduino, diavolino, evil mad science, kit reviewComments (0)

Kit review – adafruit industries Game of Life

[Updated 17/01/2013]

In this review we examine the Game of Life kit from adafruit industries. This kit is simple to construct, yet interesting to watch in operation, almost mesmerising. If you love blinking LEDs, this is the kit for you. Furthermore, it is very easy to construct which makes it a great kit for someone who is learning to solder. But before we run through putting it together, what is the Game of Life?

In 1970, a mathematician by the name of John Conway created the concept of the Game of Life, which is a example of a cellular automaton. Imagine a grid of cells, and each cell can either be dead or alive. Each cell interacts with the cells around it, and these neighbouring cells determine the life of the cell that they are neighbours to. There are a few simple rules to this:

  • a live cell with less than two neighbours will die, due to under-population;
  • a live cell with more than three neighbours will die, due to overcrowding;
  • a live cell with two or three neighbours lives on;
  • a dead cell with three neighbours will come to life, due to regeneration.

For example, consider the following situations:

cells

1 – death; 2 – life; 3 – death; 4 – life; 5 – rebirth; 6 – death. This kit displays a simulation of the Game of Life process using a 4 x 4 grid of LEDs. Once you start watching the kit in operation, you often try to predict what will happen next. So, let’s assemble it and see what happens.

As usual, adafruit ship their kits in reusable anti-static bags:

1

Upon opening it up and turfing out the contents, we are presented with the following:

2

Everything is included to make the kit operational – no surprises. I scored an extra green LED – thanks! The kit can operate from between 3 and 5 volts, hence the 2 x AA cell holder included. The PCB is of excellent quality, with strong solder masking and a very descriptive silk screen:

3

This really is a simple kit to assemble. All the resistors are identical, so you can insert them into the board and solder them all in once hit. Time to fire up the iron and the fume extractor…

4

Careful when clipping off the excess leads, they can fly all over the place!

5

Next for the IC socket. Good to see a socket was provided:

6

At this point I would like to mention that all the documentation for the kit, instructions, schematic, code for the microcontroller – everything – is available freely, as this is an open source kit. If you intent to make your own, or modify the original design, you must respect the terms of the original Creative Commons licence as detailed in the documentation. Moving on, time for the capacitor and the link. The original design used an LM7805 regulator to control the incoming power supply, however this version (1.3) can operate from 3 to 5V, so an LDO isn’t needed. Therefore a link is placed between pins 1 and 3 of the regulator’s spot on the PCB:

7

Also note that there are three spaces for capacitors, but only one is necessary – solder it into the space for C3. I put it into C2 by accident, but luckily this is acceptable for the design, and I had some spares in the stock here. Now it is time for the LEDs. The kit ships with green LEDs, which look fine. My original plan was to solder in snap-off pin sockets so I could change the LEDs over at a whim, but none in stock. So on with the green! For visual appeal they look good flush with the PCB, as such:

8

and in with the rest:

9

Almost finished, time to solder in the power/reset button and we’re done:

10

Hooray – the main work is done. The six holes on the left of the IC are for in circuit programming, but I’m an arduidan at the moment, so will leave that alone. The IC is already programmed before it leaves for the outside world, so you don’t have to worry about it. Next was to test the board and make sure it worked. I loosely connected 5V and hit the power button:

11

Looking good. Now for the power supply. Although it can run from 2 x AA cells, mine will just sit on the desk. Last month I bought a few USB extension cables for $1 each, so I can just chop one up and use it to power the GOL from my PC. The first thing to do in this case is separate the wires in the cable, and determine which is which:

13

Luckily for me this cable had the power lines appropriately colour coded. However, one should always check, so I plugged it into the PC and set the meter on the black and red wires:

12

5.04 volts DC – close enough for me. I soldered in the lead, and also screwed in some spacers to act as support legs so the kit will stand up on its own. And as a long-term temporary measure, a great wad of blutac to hold the wire and keep the pressure off the joints:

14

Hey, it works for me. Anyhow, the assembly is finished. Time to clean the desk off, put the soldering iron somewhere safe to cool off, and wash my hands. The whole lot took just under one hour, including checking the news website every now and then. It has a place just next to my PC:

15

To operate the GOL is very simple, once power is applied, hold down the button to turn it on and off. Then you can reset the cells with a quick press if you are bored with the pattern. Here is a video of it in action:

So there you have it – another successful kit build. This was a lot of fun, I enjoyed learning about John Conway and his theories, and enjoy watching the display. If you are feeling adventurous you can actually connect these kits together to form larger, blinkier games of life. Details of this and other things is available in the kit’s documentation pages. So get one, have fun with it, or give it to someone else to get them interested in electronics.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, game of life, kit review, learning electronicsComments (1)

Kit Review – adafruit industries SIM reader (part two)

[Updated 18/03/2013]

Hello readers

Now for the second instalment of my kit review of the adafruit industries SIM card reader. In part one the kit was successfully assembled and the software installed. After some research and some very useful advice from the amazing people at adafruit, we can now move forward to the conclusion of this review.

First of all, a big thanks to adafruit support who pointed me in the direction of something very simple yet crucial: the kit FAQ. Once again I have exhibited the stereotypical behaviour of a male and not read all the instructions first! (Slow clapping from the females in the audience…)  The most crucial point being:

The reader and software looks in the default locations that cell phones use to store SMS and phonebook data – just like the professional forensics software. Some phones do not store any data on SIM cards, instead using their internal memory, and some do a good job of overwriting the data when it is erased. Thus it is not guaranteed that a particular message or phonebook entry will be accessable – it depends a lot on the phone used!

D’Oh.

To cut a long story short another SIM card was acquired that had not been near my handsets, and this worked perfectly. Again, that wonderful feeling of something working filled me with warmth and happiness.

Now for the moment of truth! Insert the SIM card, plug in the cable, connect the PP3 battery if you’re using RS232, and execute:

python pySimReader.py

which after starting up, and you clicking “connect reader” should result with this:

dump2

That’s more like it. Time to examine what the SIM holds… first – the phone book:

dump3

You can double-click on a listing (above left) and the edit entry box appears (above right) allowing you to … edit an entry!

Next we look at the SMS messages function. Unfortunately the SIM card I tested was deactivated and therefore couldn’t be used to receive SMSs. However an excellent demonstration is found in the video at Citizen Engineer (volume one). Finally, we can examine the details of the SIM card itself:

dump4

What are all those acronyms?

  • MSISDN – the phone number attached to that SIM card;
  • Serial number – the SIM serial number, usually printed on the SIM card;
  • IMSI number – a unique number sent by the phone to the network to identify the user;
  • SIM phase – SIM cards were originally ‘Phase 1’, and the phase number increased as the GSM standard was developed over time.

So there you have it. In conclusion, this is an easy to assemble kit which is fun and educational. This is the type of kit that would be good for those who are being introduced to the fascinating world of electronics (etc) as it is quick to build, and does something with the “real world” (i.e. mobile phones) that young people love so much. Or anyone else for that matter. High resolution photos are available on flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, cellphone hacking, kit review, learning electronics, tutorial

Kit Review – Seeedstudio Electronic Brick Starter Kit

If you have been directed here for a tutorial, please download this ebook: Electronic Brick Getting Started Guide.pdf

[Updated 17/01/2013]

Time for another kit review. Well, perhaps not a kit, but an educational system designed for a beginner to start doing things, fun and educational things, with an Arduino. From Seeedstudio comes their “Electronic Brick” Starter Kit. What on earth could this be all about, you ask?

Imagine a system of components, that connect together easily, can be reused, to work with an Arduino Uno or compatible – allowing you to experiment, learn and rapidly prototype projects with ease and safety… This is it!

Sort of like electronic LEGO for Arduino…

Let’s have a look…

box

First of all, it comes in a nice box, keeping all the goodies safe and sound. Although an Arduino board nor USB cable is included, they could also fit inside this box in a pinch.

openbox

But what are all these things in there? The “bricks” are basically little PCBs with a particular component mounted on it, an interface circuit if necessary, and a connector that matches the wires included in the starter kit.

From left to right, top to bottom, we have: a terminal block to interface with a pair of wires, a push button, a piezo buzzer, a potentiometer, a light-dependent resistor, a green LED, a tilt switch (bearing in a tube, not mercury), a temperature sensor (using a thermistor) and a red LED.

uncut

Furthermore, there is a 16×2 character backlit LCD…

And the major part, the chassis…

chassis

The chassis is an arduino shield that extends analogue pins 1~5, digital pins 8-12, the UART and I2C connections. Furthermore, there are three large ten-pin connectors in the centre called “Bus” connections. Each is different, extending a variety of digital/analog pins out. For example, BUS2 consists of digital pins 10~16, power and ground. This allows a direct connection to the LCD screen leaving other pins free for use.

An example project is shown below…

examproj

You can see how the chassis shield sits on the Arduino, and the chassis is connected to the LCD module, the potentiometer and an LED. The benefits of this “brick” system are many – for me the greatest thing was the size of the bricks are not too small, and quite strong. They would stand up to quite a beating, which would be good for a classroom setting, a family of enthusiastic arduidans, or just people who are hard on things.

There is no difference to the arduino sketch when  you are using this system, so if you do create a prototype and wish to move further with your project, you only have to change a few pin locations if you decide to use the LCD or input/outputs on other pins. So you don’t have to rewrite your code – neat. As an example, I tested it with my random number sketch from “Getting Started with Arduino” chapter two – all I had to do was change the pins in the LiquidCrystal command. Let’s see how that went, here is the sketch:

and the video:

And then some fun with the temperature sensor, the sketch:

and the video:

So there you have it. This is a simple, yet empowering way of experimenting and learning with the Arduino system. I do recommend this for beginners, or people who don’t want to muck about with tiny components. This in conjunction with an Arduino board would make a great gift for the technically-minded person of almost any age. The manufacturer is working on more bricks, and they should be released shortly.

The Electronic Brick is available from Seeedstudio. High resolution photos are available on flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, education, kit review, LCD, learning electronics, microcontrollersComments (0)

Kit Review – adafruit industries SIM reader (part one)

[Updated 18/03/2013]

In this review will cover the SIM reader from adafruit industries.

The result of this kit is a device that can read the data from a GSM SIM card, such as last-dialled numbers, SMS messages, the phone book, and so on. Although this may not sound like much, the concept of having this sort of technology at home really is amazing; that is – you can learn about the GSM SIM technology and hack into it.

The kit was shipped to me via USPS First Class International postage – taking five days to arrive in Australia from New York. Frankly that’s good enough and therefore no need for a courier.

kitbagsmall

adafruit also set the standard with customs paperwork, with a full and honest declaration inside and out. By doing this I feel it speeds the parcel through Customs… a lot quicker than those packages from Chinese eBay sellers who always put “Gift, US$2” on everything. Opening up reveals the kit itself, in an anti-static resealable bag. Groovy, packaging I can reuse and not throw away…

kitbagsmall

Another smart move is to not include paper instructions, instead having a very detailed web site and a busy support forum. You can always print the instructions out if you don’t have a PC in your work area. The next thing I love to do is have a look at the components, and get a feel for the kit itself.

partssmall

What stands out with adafruit kits compared to most others (I’m looking at you, Jaycar) is the quality of components. A decent PP3 battery snap that won’t break when you are tired and cranky, branded semiconductors, and a beautiful solder-masked, silk screened PCB. However, no IC socket. Grr. However, one can tell this has been designed by an enthusiast and not some bean-counter.

pcbfrontsmall

 

pcbrearsmall

But that’s enough looking and talking – let’s build it…

My advice at this point is to check you have all the components on hand, and then line them up in order to make it easier while you are soldering. There was also a couple of parts that missed their photo shoot call…

parts2small

If possible, the best way to make adafruit kits is to have your computer in front of you, as you can follow the detailed instructions as you go along. With the instructions up on the screen, the helping hands ready, the fume extractor on, and the tools at my side – it’s time to get cracking.

magnifysmall

First the resistors, protection diode, LED and PP3 snap  …

resistorssmall

Time for a quick test (excellent for confidence-building and troubleshooting) …

testingsmall

Excellent, the LED is working. The rest of the components are easily soldered… as there was no IC socket I soldered opposing pins in order to spread the heat load. The second-last part to fit was the SIM card reader. This had me worried, as if it was damaged, it would take a few days to replace. However, the instructions made it look simple – and it was. Taking a decent photo of it was more difficult…

simreadersmall

And finally, the last part – DB9 fitting for the serial cable to the PC. The kit is supplied with a female connector… but silly me ordered the wrong serial cable, so I am using a male connector. Again, this was easy to fit – the PCB slid between the two rows of pins on the plug, and had large solder pads to make a good strong connection.

db9topsmall

 

db9bottomsmall

OK – we’re done. Now for a SIM card… Ms. Tronixstuff wouldn’t volunteer hers, so mine will be the first victim…

firstvictimsmall

Now time to install the psySIMReader software. It is freely available here with instructions.  Originally my first attempt was with Ubuntu 9.1 and 10.04, but there were too many python errors, and I wasn’t in the mood for learning another language. Eventually I learned how to force the python software to look at COM1 – a good start. But no go – the zero error. Off to a windows xp machine. Seemed ok, but when I attempt to open the COM1 port an error says something about returning zero. This could possibly mean my SIM card is non-standard. *sigh* Went to the supermarket and bought a Vodafone SIM for $2, maybe they are different to my Virgin mobile SIM in some way. On the way back I stopped in again and tried the whole process on the windows xp machine, same error. Vodafone SIM card didn’t work either. Zero for both.

So home again. After reading the support forums, I resoldered all the joints, checked for continuity around the board, reinstalled python and the software, zero error again. Maybe SIM cards have changed a little since the kit was introduced? Then I looked at my serial cable – 3 metres. Perhaps it was too long? So I chopped off one end leaving about 150mm and soldered up another DB9 plug.

newcable-small

Tested the cable, tried again – still the zero error.

Another trawl through the forums and google revealed people having the same zero error, but it being fixed with a resolder job and/or plugging the PCB straight into the serial port on the computer. I cannot do this having originally soldered on a DB9 male to the PCB. Argh. Either it is my soldering or my dodgy serial cable hackup. Soon I will order up an FTDI cable, have someone else check my soldering with better eyes, and then try connecting again.

So at this stage, the verdict is still out. However, I must commend adafruit industries as a great organisation with respect to ordering, speed of delivery, quality and amount of detail on the website, and the support and enthusiasm offered throughout. Their other products have all received rave reviews and are supported much more than adequately.

At this point I will finish part one of the review, and return when the FTDI cable arrives.

[edit] – Click here to visit part two of this review.  High resolution photos are available on flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in adafruit, cellphone hacking, GSM, kit review, learning electronics, SIM reader

Kit Review – Seeedstudio Capacitance Meter

[Updated 17/01/2013]

This is the first of many (hopefully) reviews of electronics kits. In the past I have often wondered what a kit would be like, as they aren’t something you can look at in a store, apart from a box of components or a magazine review. Especially products that need to be imported from abroad. So now I’m going to do some legwork for you! Let’s begin…

Recently several retailers had been offering a capacitance meter kit which seemed too cheap, however looking at the specifications it was too good to pass up.

But on with the review. From placing the order on the web (paying with Paypal) to receiving the package took eleven working days. It was sent via registered airmail. Your time will vary wildly, depending on the time of year. For example, during Chinese New Year, nothing happens! Another benefit of using local retailers, no delay. Anyhow, thankfully the kit was packaged well with bubble wrap in a sturdy cardboard box.

packaging

After opening the box and attacking the bubble wrap I opened the package to check the parts against the list, and they were all there. The kit I received was a version 2.0, which would explain the part outlines and holes on the PCB but not in the list. There are also pads for external leads, and and holes for header pins if you wish to reprogram the microcontroller (but the pins were not included). The resistors were metal film 1% values, and the board was silk-screened and solder masked. However, an IC socket was not included… I feel this should have been – for the price this kit will attract many beginners who may overheat the microcontroller IC.

parts

 

pcb1

 

pcb2

Also note that there is a plastic layer over the LED display, this took me by surprise as have not seen this happen on other displays in the past.
display
So it was time to get started. Being colourblind I measure all the resistors and place them in numerical order (from R1…Rx) on a breadboard to avoid mistakes. Then before soldering the overhead light, fume extractor and helping hands are moved into place to make life healthier and easier.
extractor
helphands

And using a magnifying glass is also very useful in spotting soldering mistakes and generally helping poor eyesight…

magnify

The layout of the components is screened on top of the PCB, so you can merrily go forth and solder. However, the polarity of the electrolytic capacitors is not shown clearly or mentioned in the instructions. After some detective work it turns out the positive pin of the electrolytics goes into the square pad. First I soldered in the hardware (switch, push button, DC socket), then the resistors, then the capacitors…

capsin

Then the crystal. semiconductors, ending with the microcontoller. As mentioned earlier, an IC socket should have been included to save a lot of people a lot of worry. Not everyone has steady hands or a good sense of timing! The extra ten cents wouldn’t have hurt the retail price. Anyhow…

itworks

I plug in my 9V DC plugpack, turn it on … and it worked first time! Woohoo. Note that due to the use of an LM78L05 voltage regulator, the meter runs on around 8 to 16 volts DC, using less than 100mA current. Watching the display was almost mesmerising, there’s nothing like that feeling of assembling something and seeing it work.

But did it really work? Let’s see… where are my capacitors?
capacitors
The specifications state it can measure between 1 picofarad and 500 microfarads. The manual states that for better accuracy with measuring small values to enclose the meter in a metal box and attached the ground to the box. No time for that! Made do with four 20mm spacers to raise it from the desk. The specs state it is accurate to less than 2%. The user also needs to take note that the capacitor tolerance levels can vary, especially with electrolytics. Always try and check the manufacturer’s data sheet if possible. Supplier websites such as element14, Digikey and Mouser can be useful for that purpose.

So, first of all I tried a 0.1uF greencap, and it measured 99.3 nanofarads. Not a bad start. Always remember to press the ‘zero’ button before each measurement.

point1uf

Next a 0.01 uF greencap, returning 10.2~10.3 nF. Fair enough.

point01uf

Then a 330 picofarad ceramic. Just to note at this point, one should clean the component leads before measuring, dirty leads will affect the value measured. Furthermore, short the capactor by crossing the leads over to discharge it completely. Anyway, that 330 pF returned 319 pF

330pfceramic

How low can we go? Let’s try a 1.5 pF…

1point5pfceramic

At this level, the metal shielding would be a good idea. The meter returned a floating reading 1.4~2.1 pF. Finally, an electrolytic. 330 uF.

330ufelectro

Which returned 343 uF. Not bad considering the tolerance of electrolytics can vary, at the minimum they can be +/-10%. Now let’s see it action! The first capacitor tested is a 4.7uF electrolytic, the second a 1.5 pF ceramic. There is no audio in this clip.

So there you have it. For less than twenty US dollars you can have a decent capacitor meter that is easy to construct, quite sturdy, and very useful for the electronics enthusiast. This kit is available from Seeedstudio, Sparkfun and others.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in kit review, KIT-09485Comments (0)


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