Friday, 4 November 2011

Arduino Project - Responce Game

So I was asked to make a board and write a short program for a Game someone is working on. The basic idea is that there are five teams with assigned colours; Black, Blue, Green, Yellow and Red. A question is asked and everyone has to hit their buttons but one the quickest gets to answer. However if they get it wrong it goes to the next fastest.

I have used the Arduino as its quick and easy to program and design for. The display however needs more LEDs than there is I/O on the board. Yes I could have used a LCD but LED are cooler! So we have four LEDs for first, second, third etc and are coloured blue, green, yellow and blue. note for black I'll not light any LEDs so that saves me five LEDs.

The I/O is expanded using the Microchip MCP23008 that work over I2C. Then its a case of pull-ups for the button inputs and then lots of resistors for the leds.

It is all working now and I'll update later with circuits, code and maybe a video showing it working.

NOTE: the dip switches are only for testing.

Friday, 14 October 2011

New Blogging and Review Schedule

It has been far to long since I last posted a blog on my own site however I have been busy posting elsewhere. This has become very disorganised and at times I feel that I have been letting down on some of the site by not getting regular content out.

So as from now on I have set myself my own blogging schedule. As you may know I blog on EngineerBlogs once a week however that has now come to a end. It has been a hard choice to make but I have decided I need focus and that is more on electronics and more technical subjects. I’ll be posting my last blog next week, so keep your eyes open for that. So my new schedule will be committing to blog one per month on DesignSpark and on EE Web where I’m a technical author.

This neatly brings me to element14. Last month I became one of the ‘Ask The Experts’ on the site and this is done in conjunction with where I work at ebm-papst. However I have now been signed up to the element14 ‘Do It Together’ blogs where I shall also be committing myself to one blog per month there too. I’ve never been a great fan of the standard blogging area on element14 as there are just far to many posted each week to get good coverage. However I’m excited to be part of the ‘DIT’ team and my first post should come out any time soon.

As for content DesignSpark will have engineering and reviews, EE Web will be pure electronics hard core stuff and element14 to start will have a theme - but you will have to wait and see what that is.

As for reviews I’ve been really enjoying doing these and its great to get time to try these out. However I need more so let me know if there is something you would like to see reviewed or if you personally have something you would like reviewed.

I’m also hoping to get to do a lot more with these kits too - I have a few project idea’s I want to work on and I’ll be using some of the kits to help demonstrate and get them working. As such I have two project I’ll be writing up and posting here, or somewhere, in full.

Anyway its been nice writing a open post and I really should get time to do this more often. Also want to say thanks to support I get from people reading these blogs and reviews and the feedback.

P :o)

Friday, 17 June 2011

monpjc news

Its been a good few weeks since I last blogged on here which is disappointing from my point of view - must try harder! So here is my ‘monpjc news’ update...
So blog wise I hope you have been keeping up with my posts on other sites. on note I quite liked my post on DesignSpark about using Modbus which I get lots of practice using. Here at ebm-papst its one of them protocols that lots of people use. I also enjoyed writing about how ECU’s work on Formula 1 cars. OK this was some time ago but was a interesting time working with that sort of stuff.
Staying with Blogs I do have some new news for you - from July I’ll be one of the
Technical Authors on EEWeb. This all started a few weeks back when they spotted one of my blogs on EngineerBlogs and asked if I’d be a featured engineer. I said yes and hopefully the interview will be going up soon and will let you know when that and my first article appears.
You may also want to keep an eye out for the short article that will appear on the ebm-papst site as a follow up to the 555 contest. The meter given away went to Tom the overall winner of the contest so you will be able to read more about what he is using it for.
Still to come soon blog wise is a writ up of the amazing Lego Rubik cube solver and that will be posted on DesignSpark. Also coming soon will be a review of the new Microchip chipKIT which I have been given - not certain where this will be posted as I’m letting Microchip decide but I’m sort of guessing this will be on element14 as they stock and sell them.
A fun and interesting bit of hacking this last week at work has been setting up a Linux Ubuntu box to act as a extra backup server. So I have been helping our IT student Carly who is on a gap year to learn Linux and play around with fstab and cronjobs. She has done a wonderfull job getting it all working - who knows she may become an engineer! Its also been a good reminder how powerful Linux is as the tasks we have the machine running are all just written with a bit of script. So much easier than getting this to work on a Windows machine!
Other than that on a personal note some of you will have seen I did a First Aid course with the British Red Cross which was very good and Oh I have finally passed my motorbike test so no longer getting slowed down by my learner plates!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

PHP Pandemonium

Like lots of geeky engineers we have all put together web pages at one point or another. Most of us have come to grips with HTML but lots of degree students are having to complete a unit on PHP with little or no help.
So about four years ago I got myself a old PC and loaded a Linux server onto it and started playing around with hosting my own web site on it. As part of this I found PHP and started to teach myself it along with learning a bit of MySQL.
I was then lucky enough to be part of a recognised course on PHP, SQL and XML at work. This course was great as I could expand on what I had already learned myself and understand more about the options available. PHP is a lot like C in my option so found it really easy to pick up having been programming in C for nearly 20 years now.
However programming takes time. Its not just about learning syntax but also about learning a new way of thinking. So I was really surprised when I was first approached by a uni student though work who asked for help in writing PHP pages that access a MySQL database and display results. My horror was however the lack of help and support the student got.
The course they were taking was a business degree so firstly wondered why they were doing this unit at all. What I found is that there appear to be a number of core units these students go though including learning logic gates.! WTF.? Anyway I now seam to keep bumping into these students now and each time with the same comment - please help!
My issue is not with helping them - I enjoy teaching this stuff even if I’m not a expert PHP programmer. My issue is that the Uni’s are not helping or supporting them to get though it. There appears to be a major lack of guidance of where to start and how to go about programming in PHP. Then once you try adding on layers of HTML and SQL its can all get very confusing very quickly. I can understand that at Uni you should do a lot of research and self learning but come on guys - talk about in the deep end!
My other point I’d like to make is that I have found that each of these students has been put off doing any HTML, PHP or SQL programming ever again. Is this what the Uni’s are trying to do, turn people away from engineering skills?
Engineering really is fun you know and for anyone who has been turned off programming or any engineering - well that because you had crap lectures with no passion!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Return of the Engineer | Error 404

Its been some time since I last posted a blog on here so I guessed it was about time I got back on here.

For anyone that has followed me closely on twitter will know that I’ve been doing a lot of in house training. This has been an opportunity for me to show our sales and technical the full details of our products. Its not like they did not know already but I was allowed to go into a much higher level of detail as to how they work. For some it was all shinny and new, as we have a number of new people on board.

From my point of view its been hard work. I’m an engineer after all so not one for writing training material and standing up doing death by power point. However everyone was happy with what I did and I can say that we, and that includes me, have all learned a lot from the 6 months and 200+ hours I’ve done!

So now that's all out the way I’ve got back to spending time at work as an engineer! YAY ME! and talk about back in the deep end. I now have a major project to get done and few hours left between now and the deadline. So on Monday its going to be full on and I’m looking forward to it!

The other thing I wanted to comment on is our dependence on the Internet now. Friday it may have not passed you by to notice it was the 13th. So to stop the bad luck I filled my bike up at pump number 13. However it seams that Friday the 13th was planning on getting at millions of us.

The first I noticed was that I could no log into blogger. The site was not down but all blogs were offline. There was no hacking of accounts as i had first guessed or DoS attach but natural, if you can call it that, engineering IT issues. According to the official blogger page this outage was caused by maintenance which damaged some data and they then spent ages fixing it - I can just imagine the team of engineers working on this and the Oh Sh.... moment when they saw what had happened.

Latter that day I noticed that twitter started to be serving up lots of images of whales, ie over capacity. After doing a bit of a search I found that lots of people were also getting little or no response from the twitter servers. It also transpired that YouTube also seamed for many to be down too. One comment on twitter read “first blogger and now twitter and youtube, what the hell is happening!” which is funny as they posted it on twitter so it was not down.!?

It seams that none of these sites were effected by any one thing, they just all had their own problems, just all on the same day, Friday the 13th. Thank god they are back online - How would we live without them!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Is it time for mbed yet.!?

Despite last week only being a four day week its been quite exhausting mentally. And even now into and though the weekend I have felt quite warn down. Is it the warm weather we are having? Have I been extra busy and can I go have a lay down on my mbed now.!?

I’ve been busy putting out some extra blogs again this week first starting with a review of the National Electronics Week at the NEC which was good for me as the show allowed me to meet lots of people I normally only get to talk to via email or Twitter.

Then on Wednesday the whole Internet exploded with 555 contest stuff again, OK little over the top, but you get what I mean. Wednesday night we saw Chris Gammell and Jeri Ellsworth announce live the results. I have like all the people involved been very impressed with all the entries and personally feel I could not have matched them. However I did release a blog I’ve had for a while about looking at the 555 Timer and seeing if it could be matched with a microcontroller.

The other news I have is that my son Matthew (13yrs old) who has been playing around with electronics for awhile now has started experimenting with an mbed. He has used the processing language for some time now but been a little limited by it, played with the arduino but I think has fallen for the mbed. His first blog - yes he is blogging too! - is over on DesignSpark and talks about his first project. He is now working on getting the USB and Ethernet stack working so he can make it into a small web server as well as display stuff on an LCD. If only I’d had this stuff as a kid!

I’ve also spent some time looking at blogging and getting me updates out to you all. Blogging is about doing what you enjoy and talking about it but I enjoy the feedback and networking. So after watching a video about using twitter and social media I’m changing how I announce my blogs. I’ll now be using HootSuite to send out a tweet at around noon in Europe and than again at around noon for the USA. This is not about getting more followers - its about giving people the chance to see my blog. As I have stated before the world has lots of time zones and tweets get lost over night. So this way I’m just getting tweets out when your awake to see them.

So the last thing I’m up to apart from trying to get my project pages sorted (maybe I should start!) is to put together a 555 robot line follower which I have now sort of promised Erin I would do - I love a challenge and love robots so will work on this over next week or two.

Stay safe, Paul :o)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Summary of Week | National Electroincs Week | Gadget Show Live

So the last week has been another really busy one with two shows, a seminar, blogs and testing video blogs for Resonance Weekly.

So like most weeks I started by putting together my blog for EngineerBlogs and this week was about how I felt FPGA engineers were being pushed into using the numeric library and not considering std_logic_arth. Not that I was supporting either but was surprised I did not get a single comment especially after the feedback I’d got on DesignSpark from my original blogs. Maybe I was just explaining it too well and everyone agreed with me.!?

A big chunk of the week was taken up with the National Electronics Week (#NEW) and The Gadget Show Live (#GSL2011). NEW was very towards surface-mount and PCB manufacturing which was OK if into that - I’m not. But had a good time meetings and talking to both the RS Components (DesignSpark) and Farnell (element14) teams. I’ve now got to write this up over this week and will post on DesignSpark this coming week. Promise!

The GLS2011 show is live visiting a massive PC World, Currys, Maplin store all in one. All the big Gadget names are their like SCAN, Cisco with Flip Camera (oddly!), NVIDIA and tons more. Again I will get a full blog by the end of the week with some pictures too! I also bumped into the presenters of LadyGeekTV which as yet I’ve not talked about, but I tell you more in a upcoming blog about the great work they are doing.

So you would think that was a enough for most weeks but no because on Wednesday at ebmpapst we had a Seminar. OK I was not presenting but spending a morning on your feet again was very draining but good to meet visitors and customers.

So to my two major Geeky things this week. First off if you get the eTech magazine (issue 6) then you will see that I have an article in it. This time round eTech is all about communications and I’ve done a bit on how you can communicate with modern hi-tech fans and gets lots of information and control out of them - long gone are the days of just switching them on and watching them go full speed.

I have also worked on the Resonance Weekly pilots as last weeks one have really bad audio and people were saying it was hard to understand. So I used a voice over and created an animated host that looks like me. This would have gone out at beginning of the week however it took ages to imports the audio as my files were too big. However I think its quite good this time. What do you think?

So apart from getting all these blogs done I don’t have a lot more to do, but think that's enough for now. Stay safe and tweet you all later.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Busy days and lots of blogs

When you get started with blogs you are often told that you should keep regular blogs and stick to your content. However my blog posts are far from regular unless you count the ones on EngineerBlogs. So why is this and what Am I doing about it. Well I have this and more to say...
I’ve not had much time to write blogs to be honest. The blogs I do for DesignSpark are encouraged by my company ebm-papst UK as they help to keep our profile up. This is good for us all as I get time to blog, DesignSpark get content and you guys get engineering blogs that's not full of marketing buff. However I've been busy training our technical and sales staff, have project to work on so blog time has fell back. But May will change, Training will be done and I’ll be back blogging on there. Also not to forget all my reviews of kits and product will appear on there too so look out for them too!
My blogs on here and how I use this site will also be changing soon too. I want this site to be about me as a hobby electronics engineer. I want to share all the odd projects I’m working on as well as talk about the details of stuff I’ve done for past employees (Stepping round the IP). I need to sort out where to keep my project pages as blogger is not designed for that.
The other thing that has taken host here for now is Resonance Weekly and its Pilot shows. For now this is their home while I develop how it moves forward. Issues like last weeks audio will get addressed and I’ve got a new Pilot due very soon and hopefully this will get some better feedback.
So what can we expect in next few weeks while I try and get all this sorted. Well next week in the UK its the National Electronics Week (NEW) at the NEC Birmingham. All the big guys will be there; DesignSpark / RS Components, element14 / Farnell and ARM just to name a few. I’ve got my ticket so will be going myself on the 12th. I’ll be taking pictures and maybe some video so look out over the next week as it will all be posted on DesignSpark who I’ll be stealing stuff off their stand! ;o)
Also next week is The Gadget Show Live which is a massive event here in UK for gadget lovers and its attended by a massive crowd. If you have not heard of it then check it out, and next week, yes I’ll be blogging about it on DesignSpark too as I have a pass to the show!
So till then - stay safe people!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

GoAnimate hits YouTube | Video

So news on YouTube this week is that they have added animation tools that allows you to create your own videos without ever picking up your camcorder. The site offers three animation packages; Xtranormal, Stupeflix and GoAnimate. So having done a bit of video editing and have a keen interest in making films I gave it a look.

Each package offer very different looks and feels and my personal favourite is GoAnimate. You get pre-designed sets, people and props to use that are all real easy to use. Special effects like cuts, pan and zoom work real well and additional effects are very good too (but don't over do using them when making a film!).

This first video I put together though YouTube to just play with the idea and see how it works. As you can see you can use a special text-to-speech tool so you don't even have to record your own voice. Its a little clunky and flat but plays quite well.

After making this video I found that while trying to make a second I could not add any more text-to-speech. I was told I could purchase more but that was a coming soon feature. So I guessed the tool is limited by how many effects you can add or that this new feature on YouTube is limited somehow. I've not been able to find out what these limits are however, as there is no details on YouTube or GoAnimate about limits / usage which is poor!

So I joined the GoAnimate site and made a second video over there. Again features appear to be limited. As you use special features these use up credits. You can get more credits form completing tasks and getting views - I think. Again I have found the details of what you can do limited and hidden from my searches. There is lots of info on going pro and paying to get 'GoBucks' that pay for this stuff but I can't tell you how much a single text-to-speech credit will use up so could not work out how much credit I would need for a video. Oh and you are limited to 2 minutes which means your making shorts, not videos.

Personnel I feel GoAnimate should have a nice page explaining what charges get applied when stuff is used, and how many hits gets you credits back. If people want to use it long term then details need to be clear - or maybe I'm just thinking like an engineer too much?

So why should you and why was I interested in animation? Well there are a number of great shows out on the web right now including; Videos by Jeri Ellsworth, EEVBlog and Jeremy Blum as well as news channels like 'Hay' etc. But these are all quite hard work to put together. Editing is going to be needed and with animation you can avoid all the filming, lighting and sound stuff and get straight to it.

I've been asked by a few people if I was considering doing a show also - well I have no intention of appearing on screen and do not have the audio kit to record good audio with. So when GoAnimation came in front of me - well I'm tempted. But my content is free and so if the time I spend on them so investing in a service like GoAnimate is not for me when its going to hit my pocket. Hopefully GoAnimate will make charges visible and then maybe... Well who knows...

Anyway this is the second video that is hosted on GoAnimate (Free-?): monpjc screen test two | show idea by monpjc

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Free Stuff : DesignSpark and element14

So over the last year I have been blogging and tweeting about electronics mainly on DesignSpark but will be doing more on element14 as well as my normal blogs on here and over on EngineerBlogs.

During this time I've collected the odd bit of free stuff from both DesignSpark and element14 so here is what I have.

As added bit of fun hopefully elemant14 and DesignSpark will reTweet the link for this blog and at the end of the week we can see who brings in most hits for me! ;o)

Full List includes:
Pens from both
Bags from both
T-Shirts from element14
Shirt and polo top from DesignSpark
Mug from DesignSpark (Tea not included!)
Sports Bottle from element14
Fold-away frisbee and pouch from DesignSpark
Ice Scraper from element14
Credit Card USB and standard USB pen drive from DesignSpark both 2GB
standard USB pen Drive from element14 1GB

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Blog Hits = X^-2 | Trends in Traffic

Over last few months I have noticed a patern to hits on my blogs. not only on my site here but on other sites also. Below is the typical graph I get for one blog post after it has been posted.

What looks to happen is after posting it either though RSS feeds, email updates or following a tweet about the new content every hits the page on the first days or so. This graph as the title of the blog suggests is a mathematical formula X^-2.

What is interesting is when you apply this to a site that posts new content everyday but none at the weekend - you get peek traffic on Wednesday due to the overlapping trends as shown below.

These graphs assume that each blog is of equal interest and the same amount of people come back each time. We know however content will differ in interest and that Fridays have a drop off more than shown here - why? Well there could be lots of reasons but you will find that traffic shape is more 'bell' shaped. I could also suggest that if you post on a site that has lots of other bloggers, then Wednesday could be your best day to post. But don't tell everyone as they will all do the same.

I'd like to hear if you have seen the same trends or have reasons for the drop off on a Friday.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Which Blog to Write Next | Result | 555 v Microcontroller

So a few days back I was wondering which blog to write next. Wanting to keep my public happy I gave the twitter poll site TwtPoll a try. The sites very good as it allows you to select different type os question formats, post your question on twitter and monitor the results.

So my question was "Which of the following, from its title, would you like me to blog about next?". This got sent out on twitter and considering I have around 200 followers I got back 28 votes. OK not a massive amount but that more than 10% which I was pleased with.

So in all I found the site helpfully at running the poll however... As shown below your given the option to display the result in your own blog page - no matter what I ajust it spills out all over the page.! :o( I'll be contacting them about this.!

As you can see I now have to go off and write about blog to see if a 555 is better than a microcontroller at being a 555 timer! The other blogs will all get written in time but now I know what will be popular with my audience so thanks for voting!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Netgear DG834G and DNG2000 Strip Down

So this week I had my newer Netgear DG834G die on me. I've had this a few years now and even went back to using it over a newer DNG2000. So as both have stopped working correctly, Switch has died in the DNG2000 and WiFi has died in the DG834G, I decided to pull them apart and see whats inside.

Images have been uploaded at full size so people can get in for a closer look by clicking on image.

First up is the older DG834G which has devices only on the top and a plug in WiFi card. Standard Router Ti chip and Switch IC. Note the main Router chips get quite hot to touch.

Next is the DGN2000 which has the same (assume) Switch IC now with heat sink. The router IC also has a heat sink now and you will notice there are now two RAM chips (on on the back). Its also looks to have two switch mode power supplies and you can but notice the two large caps that support the on board WiFi section.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Workbench (Place) Of The Week-?

So I spend an hour or so every week listening to The Amp Hour and really enjoy seeing pictures posted for Workbench Of The Week (WOTW). However I think they are all far to tidy and not convinced a lot of work goes on there - so here are pictures of my messy benches, desks etc that I work at from day to day.

So first off is the office desk - Spend lost of time here writing emails, writing blogs and reviews as well as a bit of work from time to time. Also where I write all my code.

Next is the Lab bench - there are three benches on for each engineer, this is mine. Note I have my 555 temperature speed controller being built.

No this is not a scrap bin - these are all my early prototypes for trying out new ideas.

Just a few components.

This is our environmental chamber - full computer control, cycles, switches your gear on and off under full control for weeks at a time. Also good for heating up pies.!

Our Conducted Emissions area for spot of EMC testing.

Hope you liked my quick tour. I spend lots of time here and there. Also spending lots of time doing in house training which is here in our meeting room.

Oh and in case you think its just my place of work that is a mess - here is my set up at home.!

Thanks :o)

Thursday, 10 February 2011

New Projects Page and Stuff I've Made

Since starting this blog page my aim was to write and focus on the electronics projects I have done in the past and ones I working on now. However because I work full time as an electronics engineer at ebm-papst UK Ltd I have to consider the intellectual property (IP) of my company. This unfortunately means I can't tell you all about the exciting day-to-day stuff I work on.

However blogging and being more involved with DesignSpark over the last year has meant I'm getting to do more of the hobby electronics I used to love doing, playing with development kits and building circuits on strip board, all inspired by sites like the 555 contest and people like Jeri Ellsworth. For these reasons I'm now getting more hands on as well as making more of a mess at home on the kitchen table!

So I have added a projects page to this blog that will grow in time and list the new stuff I'm working on. Each entry will link to a page that will follow my design progress, ups and downs, problems and all. I'm also going to add a page soon titled Stuff I've Made that will show you the sort of stuff I have design and worked on over my years as an engineer. This will include real life products that you will have seen, used or at least know of - real projects. I'll still have to limit what I can say to cover IP but I hope to bring some insight into them and the work that went into them.

My only problem now is getting it all done in-between writing blogs for other sites like EngineerBlogs, DesignSpark and making the projects.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Dyslexic Engineer

I found out I was Dyslexic when I started secondary school at the age of 12. By the time I left I had poor grades and was told I would not amount to much. However Dyslexia is not a disability or have something missing in our brains, its just the way we are wired up. So how does someone with dyslexia get by in a world or words and what magic powers have some of us harnessed that has given us an advantage over others, like me in becoming an electronics design engineer.

At the beginning I can remember looking at black boards or pages of text having no idea what other kids around me were seeing. For me the pages may have well as been blank for all I could gleam from them. However I was lucky as when I started my secondary school my teacher spotted what I was having problems. I was tested for Dyslexia and found to have a mild form. The approach for me in my English lesions from my teacher was not to learn to read although that was a part of it, but more to focus on the things that dyslexics and autistic people have, the ability to see things differently. For me I was able to rotate images in my head and look at drawings and describe what could not be seen or how it would look form a different angle. I also found i could memorize chucks of maps, drawings etc in a almost photographic type way. My teacher encouraged these skills and gave me and others more confidence which lead us to start learning to read more and more. By the time I left school at 16 I had reading age of around 10.

Over the years I have slowly got better at reading and writing but its still painfully slow compared to the speed my brain wants to run at. Computers and PCs were just entering homes and when I started my ONC in electronics at collage I know I would have never finished it or my HNC without Word and a spell checker!

Since then I've relied heavily on computers to get by in my working day. Lists are important to me and where I work we have an internal wiki which I use to assemble ideas. Just more recently I have found which is a really nice little online tool for generating lists. I have also used a package called Bugzilla which is fab at tracking faults, bug or issues on software projects. Bugzilla however is quite flexible and can be used on hardware projects or even just you day to day life. Being dyslexic meant I had to be better at project managing my day at work - unfortunately I've never quite got it to work at home.!

Another really good tool I use is to block out my calender in Outlook using bright colours. each colour means a different type of task and allows me to look and see quickly what I've got planed. I also block out my whole day, not just for appointments or meeting, but anything I want to get done. This way I don't forget what I have planed and have already set aside time to do it.

Many of these things may look and sound like project management tools. In away I have stolen them from this area of business but you will find that these techniques are being taught to people today with dyslexia. these are methods of giving back Dyslexics some control.

There was recently a program on the BBC called "Don't Call Me Stupid" which follows the UK actress Kara Tointon who explain just what it like to be dyslexic and for anyone who watches it you will also see the emotional impact that it can have on a individual too. For me I forgot just how hard I found it to get though school and now having tools and work arounds I don't get those feelings of depression and frustration anymore.

For me I now find Dyslexia a gift. I do not think I could come up with design ideas and play around with stuff in my head if I was not like this. I now talk around with large chunks of circuits and software in my head that I can think over, try ideas and work stuff out. It’s like having a 3D whiteboard in my head. I still need pen and paper but in a funny way I like being dyslexic. I can get by with the reading and writing and getting my words mixed up, however I think I've come out better off in my career because of the way my head is wired up.

I would say to anyone who is dyslexia not to give up. The program link above has links to good sites that can help. Many are told that they will never come to much and give up too easy. I have always aspired to be more, maybe because I'm dyslexic,and so should others.

UPDATE March 2014 - Since writing this post I have become a Chartered Engineer. It was a big deal for me, to be seen by other engineers (The IET) as having what it takes to be a quality engineer. I feel that this shows that someone with dyslexia can achieve their dreams!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

555 Timer Hype-?

So if you have not noticed then engineering community is going nuts about the little 555 Timer IC. This is all because Jeri Ellsworth posted on twitter that she felt she should start a campaign to bring it back into popular use. In the space of a few days she has with the help of Chris Gammell placed a 555 contest website up with big companies asking to sponsor it. So what’s all the hype and why get so excited about such a little chip?

The 555 was originally designed by Hans R. Camenzind in 1970. The NE555 quickly became a massive seller and in 2003 it was estimated that more than one billion units are sold each year. The device its self contains very little, two comparators and a SR flip-flop and a bit of support circuit allow this device to perform a number of functions from generating square wave to detecting missing pluses or debouncing a switch input. The 555 has many uses but is now sadly over looked as old and impractical as a first choice.

The original NE555 which is still available was criticised as being current hungry and causing noise on supply rails due to its use of bipolar transistors. However a competitor using CMOS technology, the 7555, offers very low power usage and removed the horrid glitches seen on the 555. However despite the basic operation of the two devices being identical engineers have found a few minor differences in operation and its well worth investigating these when designing a circuit or wondering why your circuit is not working the same as one you have copied from the internet.

In its basic principles the 555 can work as a monostable or astable and achieves this by use of the designers selecting resistors and capacitors to connect to the outside of the device. Using simple RC calculation and an offset factor for the 555 it’s quick and easy to use.

Because the 555 has been around so long there are now vast amount of information and tutorials on the internet showing you how to use it. This is a list of the sites I have found that have good information and examples that you can work from.

This link will take you to DesignSpark and a little excel sheet the I put together at the request of Robotgrrl that helps you find a selection of R’s and C’s to fit your application: R-C Guide

Modern 21st century electronics is pushing back the use of the 555 chip. We are now able to purchase micros for under a dollar that are temperature stable and able to do so much more than a 555. However these micros hiding in tiny 8 pin packages have a disadvantage of needing programming and testing.

So why the hype for a 555 contest – well this little device has been around for a long time and as engineers we have a certain love for our hobby electronics roots and the days of building small projects from Radio Shack or Maplins. In the 80’s when I was building circuits you found 555 timers in tons of products, either that or a 741 op-amp! So Jeri like so many of us remembers the good old days and having a contest allows us to bring the little 555 timer back to the front of our minds and remind us that simple is sometimes better.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Rise of Social Video

According to the social media network 2011 is going to be the rise of video blogs, webinars etc. But what effect will this really have of us design engineers? Are we now going to have to look good on camera to make it, or should we all start finding stunt doubles? The other question are, is this really new and what makes a good video post!

Personally I not certain that video blogs and webinars are totally new. Video has been a powerfully tool used by lots of people for some time now and they have made a big impact. From a totally geeky point of view I watched and learned a massive amount about computer science and programming techniques by watching the thirty plus videos posted by UNSW on iTunes U entitled COMP1917. What made these video really good it that the host, Richard Buckland is excited and enthusiastic about his subject. This makes watching them really fun because he would sometimes go off topic to explain things. The videos centered around him giving lectures at UNSW however they are far from technically well constructed videos, lighting is poor in places and it even drops sound at one point. Having said this they are compelling to watch.

Possible the biggest name in electronics that is using video to its max is eevblog. Here we see the same passion for electronics that we know we all have inside us – well us geeks anyway! His approach may never make him a Hollywood actor and nor would his videos get a golden globe. But it’s all about that little something that again makes Dave compelling to watch. I also have three other videos that I think are a must to watch. These use an new approach that you may not have seen before or expect as a method for posting a video. Passing information with massive visual effect is what they do best. Again these are not from a video point of view well lit or have good sound but they do what’s important and that’s get a message across.

Hopefully by now you will see that making videos is not about generating a well polished HD video that could appear as a prime time BBC documentary. As engineers we know the world is far from perfect and we are all familiar will a little bit of shaky video skills for filming our kids at Disneyland or filming your mates at the pub on a mobile phone. So making videos for other geeks do not have to be that good!

The other importnat think in making a video is the equipment. Keep it simple. You could go and get yourself a expencive camcorder but you can get away with a Flip which is really very low cost and comes with basic editing software. There are a lot or big names posting with nothing more. But I would not suggest you video with your mobile! You can't keep it still, but a small cheap camera can be stood on a table or fitted to a tripod that will make your videos look really good. Lighting is also important and a good suggestion is to place you camera in a window looking in at you. You will use natural light and from the right direction. Run some test runs and see what you look like, A clear image or are you all in shadow. Just some basic lighting is all you need.

Editing can be hard, there are free tools and some to pay for by you will not be breaking the balance as some tools are less than the cost of filling yout car up with petrol. As I have already said, the Flip camera and editing tools are very good so would recommend starting here. When filming always allow a few seconds for the camera to run before talking and the same at the end - makes it easier to edit after. And lastly please dont use fancy wipes and fades and spinning images. Your views will switch off very quick - just clean cuts is all you need.

So how do you move forward and get more information or know how to get people to see my video? Well there are a number of social media people that are promoting Video at this time. I would recommend getting a twitter account if you do not already have one and following these people: @imsweetie @jododds and especially @barefoot_exec. Now I know there are a number of engineers that are a bit shy and can feel a little over powered by social media types but these guys know what they are talking about and can help point you in the right direction.

So the key things are when making your video. Keep it interesting, don’t try anything too flash! Use a good camera like a FLIP. Stick to the information you need to get across and remember to post it were everyone can see it – YouTube.!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

How I Became an Engineer

I became interested in geeky stuff when I was less than ten years old. I remember being given a toy wind up clock that you could open the back of and pull all the gears out and then put it back together to make it work. A sort or geek jigsaw. I was always interested in how and why stuff worked and in the 70’s there was no kids TV on early, only Open University programs. I would be playing on the floor while Dad watched men in odd jackets talking about calculating the curve or a cord. This all sinks into a six year old and was not long before I started repeating what I’d heard.

At the time my Dad was a TV salesman / repairman so when our TV stopped working or a neighbors then the set would end up on the kitchen table with the back off. The view when your only 4 feet tall of glowing valves and the warm sell a old TV set gives off is a kind of mystical magic. Dad would keep me well back as he poked about inside and adjusted the colour or fixed rolling pictures. Was a sort of magic and I just looked on in wonder.

In 1981 as the first NASA shuttle took of we got our first computer – A ZX81 by Sinclair. This was fantastic for me as now I had something that would respond to being given commands, draw pictures and play games and a year later with a ZX Spectrum I was soon writing my own stuff and finding out how the hardware and logic of a Kempston Joystick worked. By then Dad was working from home doing TV and HiFi repairs and I got to fix computers and help people with them and all at the age of 12.

It was then I had a dream job of being a service engineer that could fly into space and repair spaceships. Year’s later people repaired the Hubble telescope while still in space! That was the sort of stuff I'd dreamed of. Ok I may have never got off the ground but I went to college and got my HNC in electronics. By this point I had believed I was an engineer, however years later I still aspire to be better and greater at my job. I may never have a PhD or get a cEng but I know that being an engineer is not just about passing an exam, nor is it a way or life but it is a way of thinking.