Maker Festival 2016

Last weekend, the Toronto Reference Library hosted the Maker Festival for another epic event and, for my third time, I volunteered to teach people how to solder. The way this event has grown is astonishing and it really was their best to date.

After I finished a morning volunteering shift, I took a tour around to see what exciting things were on display this year. Here’s a quick video I made of just a¬†few of the things to see this year:

The entrance atrium was full of color this year, with hanging origami and streamers floating above the crowd. In addition, there was a smooth looking LED matrix and chaser LEDs lining the main staircase.


There are always grand demonstrations and displays. This year on the main floor was a sphere that just kept growing. I never got to see the final result though.


This was a project made by Steam Labs, a local makerspace. It’s like one of those High Striker carnival games where you smack a pad with a mallet as hard as you can. In this project, they used a force sensor and had people press it has hard as they could. I found it interesting because I had a similar concept in mind for a project… ūüôā


It’s always great to see kids getting their hands dirty and having fun. The build-your-own-boat workshop and the accompanying boat race in the entrance water feature seemed like a hit once again.

For all of my pictures, visit the photo gallery on my website here:

I expect to be back at the Festival next year. It’s become a life goal to have something on display there at some point… ūüėČ

Adventures with surface mount soldering (and store updates)

IMG_0001Finishing up a soldering session with a pile of PCBs is so satisfying!

Over the past little while, I’ve been working¬†on getting new products in my Tindie store, while learning new things and hitting a few speed bumps along the way.

Adventures in Surface Mount Soldering

When I started assembling the ATmega328p Breakouts that use surface mount components, I was excited to gain some experience working with SMT components. The first time I was exposed to surface mount soldering was¬†back in my first semester of college where we used flux, solder paste, and a toaster oven to assemble some SMT kits. Hand soldering my ATmega¬†boards,¬†I realized quickly that it would be impractical for me to assemble every single one.¬†To date, I’ve sold about half assembled and half as unassembled kits. In my time assembling all of those boards, I’ve picked up a few lessons.

My first lesson is that you’re screwed without flux, at least if you want decent looking joints. My method is to get the component on with any amount of solder, then throw¬†some flux on it and hit it with the iron. It lets the solder flow again¬†and makes a cleaner joint than if you were relying on the flux in the solder.

My second¬†lesson is to use rubbing alcohol to clean up the flux residue, specifically 100% (or as close as you can) alcohol. I accidentally picked up rubbing alcohol that’s only 70% and it’s doing a poor job compared to when I was using something like 95% earlier. Still, with some aggressive wiping, and sometimes even rinsing the board¬†with water, I can still get the boards looking clean.

My final lesson is to never go smaller than the size 0805. The capacitors I’m using on those ATmega328p Breakouts are 0603 and they’re the hardest components to put on. Of course there had to be two of them. In my new NCP1117 voltage regulator boards, I’m using 0805 capacitors and they were a lot easier to put on.

What’s New?

So after all that about surface mount soldering, I decided to go back to the basics with the ATmega328p Breakout Board and reintroduce one with just through-hole components. The ATmega328p Breakout Board BASIC is much like the original one I was using before I ever opened my Tindie store. I hope with less components and only through-hole components, the kit option will be more appealing to people. It’s also easier for me to put together too so I can get more assembled boards up quicker than I ever could with the original, which is now dubbed as the PRO version.

I also put up a couple of SMT breakouts, 0805 and SOT-223.

I’m working on a couple new board designs, and I’m also thinking of putting up some components I don’t need for sale. Stay tuned!

A weekend with my iron

Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time with my soldering iron and a bunch of console controllers from my brother. The analog stick in a Gamecube controller was defaulting up so when the game started the character would start running up. The analog sticks in a PS2 controller were physically getting stuck in certain directions. The plan was to desolder the sticks, wash them with water and let them dry, then soldering them back in. It was a good thing I picked up that new soldering iron tip recently because I don’t think I could have done any good desoldering with the thin tip I was using before.

IMG_0002I love seeing how PCBs are laid out in commercial products. One interesting thing I saw this weekend were vertical pieces of the board soldered on at a 90¬ļ angle. I suppose you’d only do that to fit the form as they did this for the shoulder buttons. I think it looks cool but I don’t think I’d ever have an application to try it.

Also in the picture is one of the bare analog sticks before it was desoldered, cleaned, and soldered back in. The box itself is soldered down to the board, with two potentiometers on two sides of it to get analog readings in the x and y axes. The box isn’t electrically connected but I did notice that at least one controller PCB had one of the box pins connected to the ground plane. It sounds like a good practice that I hadn’t considered before, even though I realize it’s pretty much the equivalent to grounding electrical boxes in your home for light switches and lightbulbs.

This was the Gamecube controller that had the problem with the character running up when the game starts. I figured it was some dirt or sweat that got into it so I washed it in water and let it dry for a while. It worked when my brother tested it, but it started acting up again, so I desoldered it again and soaked it in alcohol. I haven’t heard any complaints yet so hopefully that was the solution. I wish I had taken pictures before and after because the alcohol made it really shiny.

I don’t have a picture of it, but one of the tiny wires from the cable came off from the PCB. I had an easy time soldering it back on. I also added more hot glue to the hot glue that was already there…IMG_0002The next controller was the PS2 controller. They worked but were physically sticking in certain directions. I tried the water and alcohol cleaning again but it was still sticking. In the end, it was decided that the two smooth sticks from a used controller would go into this original one.IMG_0001Here’s a picture in the middle of desoldering the two analog sticks from the PS2 controller. Up to this point, I was “lazy” and was using soldering wick. I was never happy with my technique of desoldering with a pump because it would either leave behind solder I could never suck up or I’d end up burning off the pad. With so much wick being used this weekend, I decided to try my hand at using the pump again.

I got the technique down a little better, though I did burn off half of a pad from the board but it was just one of the pins holding down the analog stick box. I found that adding more solder and trying to get the pump perpendicular to the board (nearly inserting the pin into the pump) was a technique that worked well.

So that’s it. Hopefully my efforts work out for the long run. Thanks for reading!

DIY LED Bargraph

I’m planning on revisiting my 74HC595 shift register boards in Eagle soon. One of the things I want to add in the next revision is a breakout to the Output Enable pin which allows you to have some PWM control. I never tried it before so I started setting it up to test it. I don’t have any larger breadboards available so I had to use a mini-breadboard. I didn’t like having to lay out the LEDs and resistors, especially on these smaller breadboards, so I put together a line of LEDs on a perfboard. I didn’t bother going on eBay to buy some of those LED bargraph DIPs because I bought a bunch of things on eBay over the holidays so I didn’t want to waste any more time or money.IMG_0001Anyways, here it is connected to a shift register. The PWM worked just fine, though I think it may have looked better on a different color.IMG_0003I already had this piece of perfboard sitting around so I’m pretty happy that the design is pretty optimized. Everything fits on the board without too much wasted space. The 8 pin female header leads to the anodes of each¬†LED and the single female header on the right is connected to all of the cathodes of the LEDs.
IMG_0004Soldering didn’t go too smoothly because I need to find a better tip for my iron. The one I used was a conical tip which doesn’t transfer the heat very well. I have another tip with a flat edge, but the edge is too wide for my liking.

Anyways, that’s it for this quick show-and-tell. Thanks for reading!

Toronto Mini Maker Faire 2014

Over the weekend, I was at Maker Faire at the Toronto Reference Library teaching people how to solder. It was such a great experience that I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year! Here are a few pictures I took:1I didn’t know there were Maker Faires in Toronto until last year, and that was after the event was over when I saw it on the news. I made sure to note when this one was happening and immediately jumped on the opportunity to volunteer when registration opened (again, can’t wait to do it again next year).¬†This was the largest venue they’ve had for the Faire in Toronto and I hope it gets even bigger next year.2As you’ll see in these next few pictures, there was a good emphasis on 3D printing at the Faire. I still haven’t gotten into 3D printing yet so it was great to see all of these on display.3This shelf¬†of Makerbot 3D printers was used for a workshop where people were taught how to design and print little flower pots. In hindsight, I probably should have signed up for this. Maybe next year!4The Toronto Reference Library has a dedicated area for creation tools called the Digital Innovation Hub which¬†includes¬†3D printers. I find this type of¬†3D printer (“delta” I think it’s called?) to be very…¬†elegant. Cool stuff.5Moving along, there were some exhibitors that had laser cutters. This was something I’ve never seen in person so it was cool to see a couple of them doing it’s thing.6Some very neat remote controlled robots were at the Faire…
7… including R2-D2. It’s so cool to see something this big just casually rolling about.

8A large LED cube on display.9Battlegrounds is a laser tag system built with open source stuff like 3d printed parts, Arduino, and Xbee. It just goes to show that if you’re dedicated enough, there are tools readily available for¬†anyone to build pretty much anything.
10You feel like a kid at this event with all of the playthings on display, so you can only imagine how exciting is it to be an actual kid there. There were many things for kids to get hands-on with, from building boats and rockets, to soldering with me! Watching young kids get all excited when they see the solder flow is so awesome.

I cannot wait for next year’s Maker Faire!¬†A huge thanks and congrats to everyone who made this event a success!

Change of plans, but still a plan!

The original¬†plan for the new addition was an RGB LED matrix behind the backdrop. After considering how I would go about it and how it would look, I felt like it wasn’t worth the trouble. I didn’t think it would look good and that it would probably be something to consider in a refresh with a new stage built from the ground up.

The top bar was disassembled anyway so I decided to do something different with it. It will be fitted with RGB LEDs so I can solder them and make better connections.

IMG_20140618_142810Each color of all of the LEDs will be controlled by one pin. I haven’t used transistors in a long time (I’ve always had a fear of them) so I did some testing on a breadboard before I start soldering anything.IMG_20140619_154622I never use stranded wire so I went to pick some up today and soldered the “main” LED. The other LEDs will be chained to to each other, but this one will be the point of connection from the LEDs in parallel to the transitors. While I lose the ability to control each LED individually, I only have four moving wires to worry about this time. Hopefully my circuit makes sense. I’ll be back with a test soon enough. Thanks for visiting!

The Box project, completed!

With the Box project, or temperature/humidity monitor (part 2, I guess), sitting on a breadboard for some time, I dedicated all of today of transferring it all into the final box. I’m very happy with it despite how simple it seems. I also have a new build material.

IMG_0942I started soldering things on using a plan I drew up. This is the first time I’ve actually planned out a PCB and it worked extremely well. I don’t have to think as much as I go along.
IMG_0943Base Atmega stuff in and some resistors for the LEDs and buttons… Because it was so organized this time, it seemed a lot neater.
IMG_0945Organization was really key to the success of this project. It’s probably bad, but I was kind of surprised. There were many connections that could go wrong, and one did but I caught it and it was smooth sailing on from there.

IMG_0946I love using hot glue now and I expect to use it a lot more. Most of this project is made up of thin jumper wires so I didn’t like the connection to the perfboard on its own. The hot glue added a better base.
IMG_0947It also helped a lot with soldering. I glued them into place before soldering so I didn’t have to position my helping hands to hold the wire as I solder.
IMG_0948The first test was just powering on the LCD. I was super happy! I slowly got the other parts online and it turned out to be all good.
IMG_0950The last part was getting it all into the box. I was getting worried it would end up like my Frank robot which was basically the same thing on wheels. In that project, I couldn’t get a lid on so there were just all of these wires flying out of the top. I was actually laughing trying to find a place for the RTC. I found humor in trying to shove it in for some reason. Maybe I was just really happy too.
IMG_0953That’s it! It’s powered with a backup battery I bought for my phone, but it also works with my USB wall warts and PC USB ports.

The following video shows what control I have over it now that everything’s enclosed. Enjoy!