Saturday, December 14, 2013

Digital Picture Frame - My Way

Finished look


Years ago, before I started this blog, I created a digital picture frame out of an old laptop and two wooden picture frames from IKEA. The choice of operating system was Windows XP because I had a license that I didn't need any more and, coming from a strong Windows background, it was the obvious and comfortable choice for me. This setup has worked well for years, with no problem at all.

Recently, I needed to make another digital picture frame, but this time I was out of Windows XP licenses. So I decided to make it run some flavor of Linux.

I have never used Linux before, so this created an opportunity for me to learn something new.

Finished look - from the inside - and no, it's not upside down...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quick fix: MPLAB X Cannot Connect to PicKit2 or PicKit3


After an update of some software on a 64 bit Windows computer you might run into the following message when you start MPLAB X:

Also, when you try to program your device it fails.

Loading code from F:/Projects/PIC/LilBang.X/dist/default/production/LilBang.X.production.hex...
Loading symbols from F:/Projects/PIC/LilBang.X/dist/default/production/LilBang.X.production.cof...
Loading completed
Connecting to programmer...
The programmer could not be started: Could not connect to tool hardware: PICkit2PlatformTool, com.microchip.mplab.mdbcore.pickit2.PICkit2DbgToolManagerPK2Error0022:  PICkit 2 not found

Loading code from F:/Projects/PIC/Fws.X/dist/default/production/Fws.X.production.hex...
Loading symbols from F:/Projects/PIC/Fws.X/dist/default/production/Fws.X.production.cof...
Loading completed
Connecting to programmer...
The programmer could not be started: Could not connect to tool hardware: PICkit3PlatformTool, com.microchip.mplab.mdbcore.PICKit3Tool.PICkit3DbgToolManagerConnection Failed.

Note: Using the dedicated PICkit2 Programmer application works without any problem.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Using a DD-WRT Compatible Router to Stop ISPs from Accessing Your LAN


A couple of months ago I called our ISP's customer support line as our speeds dropped significantly. This happened overnight, with no warning, or any apparent reason (change of hardware, software, or even our internet usage habits). Furthermore, this was not the first time it happened - in the last few years it has happened about once a year at random intervals. Every time I called them they mumbled something on the phone, did not accept responsibility for the speed loss, but they agreed to send a technician to our apartment to "check the line" within a day or two. Interestingly, about one hour before the technician arrived our internet speeds were back to the usual, and the technician did not find any problem in the telephone line. Every single time! What a coincidence!

This is not what I wanted to discuss here, but I think it adds to the story of ISPs vs. home users.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Making Your Own Test Leads


I am a regular on eBay and 99% of the time I successfully source items from China. The key for this success rate is knowing what to order and what to expect for your money. However, recently I ordered a number of test leads from China for about USD2.50 for 10 pieces. My thinking was like this: What can go wrong with a piece of wire? Now I know: a lot!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bipolar Stepper Motor Driver Circuit with LMD18245


For some time I have been planning to build a number of devices that make use of stepper motors. Since I have no experience in using stepper motors I had no idea what parts, what driver and controller circuits I would need to get them running.

After extensive research  on the internet I decided to make a bipolar stepper motor driver based on Texas Instuments' LMD18245, which is a 3A, 55V DMOS Full-Bridge Motor Driver. It incorporates all the circuit blocks required to drive and control current in a bipolar stepper motor.

This integrated circuit is a bit more involved to program (although surprisingly simple compared to what it delivers) but comes with many extra features (for free), such as overcurrent protection and thermal shutdown.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fixing a Smoking Lenovo D550 Laptop


A friend of mine called me the other day with a laptop problem: his Lenovo G550 laptop suddenly stopped working - and some smoke was coming out of it. I thought to myself, that once there is smoke, there's not much to do. I agreed to take it apart and have a look at the insides of the laptop - there might be something that I can fix.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Controlling a Controller - Proof of Concept


I have seen many interesting modifications of (mostly) game controllers on the internet. They all have one thing common: they were specific to the controller in question. I wanted to design something that could be attached to any controller, regardless if it uses positive logic (button pressed = logic high), negative logic (button pressed = logic low), or something else (button pressed shorts custom levels).

The "final" board. You may notice that quite a few components are not yet mounted. The reason is that I only mounted the essential components, i.e. I only soldered in 1 74HC4066 chip (4 switches) to see if it works. If I ever decide to use this for something I can simply solder in the remaining components.

Although, I did not finish this project due to lack of time, it is in a stage where it proves that it can do its job.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spindicator Clone with Pulse and Trail Effect


Although my "original" Spindicator itself was just a clone of this one, mine was well received by the geeks around the world! :) A fellow diy tinkerer made an even better one with PWM control (very cool, indeed!).

Recently, I was asked to do something similar for a custom XBOX 360 enclosure project. So I got back to the drawing board and came up with a design that would have the following features:
  • works from the 5V DC provided by the motherboard
  • the running light should leave a trail
  • has 4 green LEDs (like the Guide button on the XBOX 360 controller)
  • small form factor (not greater than 2" x 2")
This is a short demo of the finished circuit currently sitting in one of my test PCs:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mini SIM Card to Micro SIM Card conversion


After months of waiting for my new mobile phone when I finally received it and wanted to use it it turned out that it takes a micro SIM card instead of the mini SIM card my previous phone has been using. I knew that the SIM cards have gone through some extensive shrinking in the past, it just simply didn't occur to me that I might run into this problem.
After some research I figured that my provider would charge me for issuing me with a new, smaller SIM card, not to mention the additional delay.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

XBOX 360 Controller Rumble Light Effect Mod


A friend of mine asked me if I could jazz his Halo 4 Edition XBOX 360 wireless controller up a little bit in the short time he was visiting me. Originally, I offered to make this modification, but when I opened up his controller it soon became obvious that it's not possible: in this new controller the color of the lights around the Guide button is not determined by the color of the LEDs. White LEDs are used and the plastic ring around the button filters the light, in this case, to blue. Not wanting to disappoint my friend, after some thinking I came up with this very simple addition to his controller.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tutorial: Panelizing PCBs in Eagle


Panelizing PCBs is often required when making a smaller PCB than the minimum size a fabrication house accepts. However, it is not straightforward for the hobbyist to do it without expensive software tools.

In the below example I am using Eagle 6.3.0 and a small design of mine, the Spindicator Clone.

I use Eagle to design my circuits - the free version is enough for most hobbyists and there is a wealth of information, tutorials on how to use several aspects of it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

XBOX 360 Controller Multicolour START Button mod

Four different colours for the four different players


A couple of days ago I was playing Halo 4 online when my team mates asked if I could change the colour of an XBOX 360 controller's LEDs (around the start button). After a few milliseconds of thinking (how difficult can it be to replace a few LEDs on a PCB) I replied: yes. A few minutes later, however, it got me thinking: maybe I underestimated the task and the LEDs are in some hard to reach places or are of some special shape I cannot find anywhere. (When I last time opened my controller I didn't pay any attention to the LEDs as, in general, I am not interested in such mods.) So I decided to do it, just to see if it's at all possible. As it turned out after a few minutes, it is possible and it is very easy.

Starting point: an unmodified XBOX 360 controller