Field Trip: Rotblott’s Discount Warehouse

Ever since the closing of Active Surplus on Queen, I never really know where to go for certain things. There are always big-box hardware stores like Lowe’s and Canadian Tire but the selection and variety can’t come anywhere close. It was a rainy day in the beautiful city of Toronto, but I was determined to check out Rotblott’s Discount Warehouse, a hardware store I found while searching Google Maps.

Just west of Spadina on Adelaide, you’ll find this brightly colored place. Appropriately colored because I felt like I hit a goldmine for certain things I could use.

With the project I’m currently drafting up, I was happy to see that I just found myself a supplier for wheels! There are a few different types and many sizes. I ended up walking away with a few small ones to get started with.

I was on the look out for are swivel ball-bearing joints. (Not sure what the actual technical name is.) These higher quality wheels had some swivel bases with excellent ball bearings but I’m looking for just the base without the wheel. If anything, I’ll probably edit my original plans so that I won’t need that since I don’t really want to shop for something like that online. I want to be able to handle and test it out in person.

They have tubing which I can use for my fountains, whenever I get back to that project.

They’ve got a nice selection of metal hardware, including pulley wheels which I will need for my project. The scale of the project is still up in the air, but with some of those wheels in hand, I hope to get some plans worked out so I can figure out what size of pulleys, among other things, that I’ll need.

Some rope to go along with those pulleys.

Since I was in the area, I decided to check out Lee Valley which I also saw on Google Maps. I didn’t find anything in there for me since they seem to mostly do with actual home and garden projects and didn’t carry any materials that I could use. It seems like a very high quality place though!

I left the city happy with my new discovery of Rotblott’s. I also left realizing that I don’t care much for Pokemon Go anymore, considering where this photo was taken is Toronto’s goldmine for PokeStops and I didn’t bother taking advantage…

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed taking this virtual field trip with me.

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See you later, Active Surplus.

Active Surplus is one of those stores that you could spend so much time in just to browse. They have a stock of electronics gadgets and parts, as well as an assortment of just… things. Recently, they announced that both their Steeles and Queen stores would be closing. They’ve been around for decades so it’s a tragic announcement for those who visited for all these years.

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For me, I only discovered the store a couple of years ago and have only visited the Queen location a handful of times and the Steeles one once. Each time, I wandered around in awe of all of these neat parts, while reading all of the quirky product labels. I never actually purchased anything from Active Surplus since I was strapped for cash those times I visited (ie. unemployed) and didn’t want to end up with random things I wouldn’t use. I was planning to go today but I scrapped those plans because I didn’t have the energy to take the trip downtown, and because I’m trying to get rolling on a couple of projects, in between playing Cities Skylines…

Anyways, it sucks to see them go. From what I gather, I take it that they will reappear again in the future so there’s still hope. In the mean time, I have Sayal, a chain electronics store in the Greater Toronto Area. There’s also the online stores like Dipmicro and Chinese eBay sellers.

Do you have any cool stores in your area like Active Surplus? Share in the comments!

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for some upcoming projects!

A push to get you working out of the box.

As you may know, I’ve been running a store on Tindie since early this year. I was experimenting with surface mount components when I started the store and pretty much all of my PCB designs started to include them. They save space but are more difficult to work with and use more resources (primarily flux, and time). Because it’s a lot for me to handle, I offer kits so people could assemble the board themselves, though I’d imagine some people are scared off by the surface mount components in the kits.

I know there are many skilled people browsing Tindie who are capable of putting it together, but I also want to attract beginners and casual hobbyists to my boards and get them working almost out of the box. I say almost because, even if the boards are assembled, they have to solder headers (or wires) to the board.

With all that said, I have a few things to share about my Tindie store.

The first thing is that, with the exception of the LED bar and the boards that don’t come with any components, I am working to assemble as many boards as I can. Currently, all of the boards that can come assembled have assembled boards in stock. Eventually, I’d like to phase out unassembled kits where I can but it won’t always be possible, especially when products are freshly restocked.

But that’s what I’ve been able to do with the Attiny85 Programmer & Breakout Board.

IMG_0001The current stock of Attiny85 boards is now all assembled. I’m also including headers as part of this product, since the board is designed to slot perfectly on the power rails and prototyping area on an 830-breadboard. I’m planning on getting a small stock of Attiny85’s which people can throw in their order for an additional cost.

The other news is that I’ve put in another order for PCBs. One of the PCBs ordered is the old 74HC595 Shift Register Board. I am considering starting selling them in packs of two or three, with somewhat of a bulk discount compared to the current price of one. They’re meant to be chained together, after all.

The other PCB coming soon is for a new product. I’ve dubbed it the LCD Helper, which is a board you solder onto an LCD and makes it easier to get started with. It has a potentiometer for contrast, as well as a breakout of the pins you actually use. I’ll have more details when they come in.

That’s it for now. Thanks for visiting the blog! On another note, I just got in the new water pumps but am still waiting for those WS2812 LED modules for the light show. There’s a new World of Color coming out this Friday that will probably inspire me to get back to work on the light show project!

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!

Maybe I just need to market better

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My ATmega328p Breakout Board was featured in a Tindie email newsletter. As soon as that email went out, orders started coming in, including one that picked up all 30 assembled boards that were in stock at the time. It sold out in just 24 hours and I’m currently in the process of restocking it. At the time of this post, the PCBs are being manufactured and half of the components are on their way. I’m planning on assembling the majority, if not all, of the boards before they’re put back in stock. I’d estimate them being back in stock within the first couple of weeks in April.

My other products on Tindie haven’t had as much interest. In addition to more Atmega328p PCBs, I also threw in a simple LED bar PCB that is specifically designed to work with the shift register boards. There are 16 individual SMD LEDs in a row. They’re all numbered so it would be a great tool for debugging and as system indicators in your project. I hope that bringing three of my products together (shift register board + LED bar + Attiny85 Programmer & Breakout) will spark some more interest in all of them.

And now for something new! (Store blog category)

The blog’s viewship has already surpassed January, so we’re on our way to getting back to how it was at the old blog. This is mostly thanks to my ESP8266 project. I feel like I’ve been neglecting the blog because I haven’t had much to talk about in terms of new Arduino projects… That’s why I’m here to start a new blog category called Store, which will give you some insight on how my experience selling my products online is like, which is what has been taking up all of my time. Sorry if you’re not into big walls of text, but I hope to include pictures where ever I can.

Not too long ago, I decided to take designing circuit boards more seriously so I could start an online store. Since then, I’ve listed some of these boards on Tindie, as well as some used parts from my PLC trainer on eBay. The money raised by the sales on eBay is going directly toward the development of a couple products that will be hitting Tindie in the coming weeks. Planning it all, even though it doesn’t seem like a lot, has taken up a lot of my time, which is why all of my Arduino projects have taken a backseat.

I’ve raised just enough money so far to cover the costs of doing a relatively small run of some new boards. They are the second revisions of my Attiny85 Programmer and Breakout board, and my Atmega328p Breakout Board. They both got some important changes. They’re both manually routed and include a power LED indicator. They also include ISP headers for advanced users with their fancy 6-pin ISP cables (but you can still use jumper wires). Most of the components have changed to SMD.

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The Atmega328p Breakout now breaks out the Reset pin where you can easily add in an external button. It covers two pads so you basically want to short the connection, using a button or switch, to reset the microcontroller. It’s slightly more friendly than the single Reset pin like on the Arduino.

Like I said before, the boards are also getting power indicator LEDs and ISP headers, which you can see in the top left corner of the board. Originally, I left that area open because my AMS1117 voltage regulator was supposed to line up with the input power pins of this board but it didn’t work out right.

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The Attiny85 Programmer & Breakout sticks to its roots as being a simple-to-use programmer, so it still includes a section that tells you what pins to connect to the Arduino, in addition the new ISP header. The size is also much smaller and is designed to fit into a breadboard (830 point, and similar) where the input power pins fit into the power rails of the breadboard, and the Program and Breakout pins fit into the prototyping area of the breadboard. The ISP header is typically sticking out from the top so it shouldn’t interfere with this plan.

That’s it for now! These boards should be ready sometime near the middle or end of March. Fingers crossed it all goes well!

200! (eBay update)

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This is the 200th post on the blog! Every time I hit some kind of milestone with the blog, I feel excited because it gives me a chance to step back and see how far I’ve come with the blog. It doesn’t really feel like more than a year has gone by since I started posting, so it seems odd looking back and seeing things like my Solidworks models or the Arduino robots.

The project in the picture is a project I did in April where I made a counter with an Attiny85 and a couple shift registers on a perfboard. To program it to display 200 for this post, I used my Attiny85 Programmer/Breakout Board, which is a recent project. Like I said in a recent post, I love it when projects work with each other, even better when they’re that different in age.

I’ve listed a bunch of items eBay. For this 200th post celebration, I’ve just dropped all prices. This sale will last through the weekend, though some prices will probably stay. I hope you’ll find something you like!

I’ve got some more PCB updates which will hopefully happen in the next week or two. I’m waiting on two designs in the mail which should be arriving in that time. I’m also continuing work on Rev B of the Attiny85 Programmer and Breakout Board. I hope to get back into the fountain show project soon too.

Thanks for visiting!