• Santa Bot PCB Made by PCBWay

    12/17/2019 at 17:22 0 comments

    For the last 4 years I have created a Christmas Ornament to help raise money for Charity.  The first ornament was created for a Secret Santa event for a Computer Hardware forum called "[H]ardForum".  It is the forum attached to the now defunct hardocp.com.  The "General Mayhem" portion of that forum was composed of a tight knit group of people who gave each other endless hell but at the end of the day looked out for each other and really did try to help out others when they needed it.  

    The Secret Santa event was started in 2005 and was run by a handful of people before I took over the in 2016.  When I took over I discovered that a number of people who had participated in the event in prior year weren't returning because of recent hardships.  Some were dealing with overwhelming medical bills, some were recovering from losing their jobs or were currently in between jobs because of a large lay off.  That's when I decided to make and sell 3D Printed ornaments.  The ornaments raised money so we could buy gifts for those who had fallen on "[H]ard Times" and any left over money would be donated to "Child's Play Charity", which was a favorite charity among the community.

    2016's Ornament was 3D Printed

    I continued the Ornament in 2017 but that year rather than 3D Printing the ornaments I decided to put my newly acquired Fritzing "Skills" to use and had PCBWay produce a Token and a Ornament.  Just as with the 2016 ornament the 2017 Ornament & Token were used to raise money to buy gifts for those experiencing [H]ard Times and again the remaining money was donated to the Child Play Charity.  While we reached our goals for the ornament in 2016 in 2017 they fell short.  We were still able to raise the minimum amount we needed to cover costs and to buy gifts but we didn't sell as many as we had hoped and thus weren't able to donate as much to Child's Play Charity as much as we would have liked.   We felt the biggest issue was that the ornament was catered to a really small group of people and that if it were more generic and offered to the general public we may be able to do more with it.

    2017's Ornament was my first and second PCB Designs which were created in Fritzing

    In 2018 I spun my Holiday Ornament off from [H]ardForum and rather than it being used for both [H]ard Timers & Child's Play Charity the money was raised solely for Child's Play Charity and the ornament became available to more than the [H]ardForum community.   At that point I was neck deep in #badgelife and had a great deal more experience making artistic PCBs.   My 2018 Ornament was a big success and sold out in 3 days and raised $1,000 for Child's Play Charity (https://twitter.com/mrtwinkletwink/status/1069051869710991360.

    2018's Ornament, this was my first 4 layer board designed in KiCad

    This brings us to the current year, 2019, and this year's Ornament is "Santa Bot"!  Santa Bot is the evolution of my collaboration with @Nick on "Wireshark" and instead of playing one song it plays 11 and features glowing eyes and a blinking mouth when "singing".   Santa Bot was inspired by vintage robot toys from the 1960s whose characteristics are brought to life with a Red Solder Mask, White Silk Screen, and a HASL (Silver) Copper Finish on a board produced by PCBWay.

    2019's Ornament: Santa Bot - PCB Made by PCBWay

    PCBWay sponsored this year's board so that more of the money raised can go towards the Child's Play Charity.   PCBWay has manufactured the majority of the boards I've used on my projects including Arc Badge, Krusty the It, Mad Cat, and Chestoro!

    Placing an order on their website is easy and straight forward.  You enter parameters about your board, choose your Silk Screen, Solder Mask, Copper Finish, and if you need it they can produce a stencil for you to use with Solder Paste as well. 

    Their ordering process is setup so that they review...

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  • 2019, A Year in Tools

    12/12/2019 at 14:49 0 comments

    Today I was talking with a friend about some difficulties we had with assembly with a particular part and I shared with him the tool I purchased to deal with the problem.  While going down my purchase history looking for the tool to share with my friend I realized that I actually bought quite a few tools in 2019 and I thought it'd be fun to share with you the tools I purchased and used this year.  These tools will be in order of when I purchased them.  The order of purchases tells its own story.

    While I will provide a link to all of the tools I purchased, none of the links are affiliate links so don't feel obligated to use them if you decide to make your own purchase.

    Gourmia GFD1950 Digital Food Dehydrator

    Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M6AZ863/

    I purchased this food dehydrator to dehydrate the least food related thing I consume on a regular basis: 3D Printing Filament.   I had been having printing issues with a couple of rolls of filament and I had calibrated and recalibrated my printer numerous times.  I live in a humid state (my house generally sits at about 50% humidity) so despite my efforts to keep my filament dry I figured I'd try out drying it with a Dehydrator.  I haven't gotten too far into the weeds as far as dialing in specific settings or timing I just leave it at the default 165F for 10 hours and I toss it in the dehydrator, run the cycle and use the spool the next day.   Even though filament is pretty cheap it can take me a while to actually use an entire spool so this Dehydrator has already more than paid for itself and I've worked it into my regular work flow with my 3D Printer, especially for spools that have been sitting in storage for a long time. 

    Depending on the size of the spool I can generally fit 3-4 1KG rolls of filament in this dehydrator.  I normally use it on my PLA rolls but I have also used it on PETG rolls and have noticed a significant improvement in print quality.

    MPLAB PICkit 4 in-Circuit Debugger

    Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DMSDGQX/

    If you've done anything with a PIC then you might already be familiar with this tool.  It's used to program PIC MCUs.  Hypothetically it can be used to program more than the PIC Line of MCUs that Microchip makes but my own experience with attempting to program a ATTiny13a with it went poorly but I'm not the best person to judge this sort of thing.  I used it to program the Arc Badge and it worked reliably the entire time.   As long as you use it to program chips it has 100% compatibility with then you'll have a good time.    Hypothetically you could put a MicroSD Card in this and use it to program chips without a computer but I wasn't able to test that out myself and while the hardware was there for it I don't think it was supported when I was doing it.   Still, I think it was worth the purchase and again for the PIC MCUs I used it worked flawlessly.

    ALLSOCKET TSSOP20 Programming Adapter

    Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XDNTGPD/

    I only used this adapter a couple of times but it was useful when doing breadboard experiments with the PIC16 we used on the Arc Badge.  I think if you like to bread board your designs first this is a good device to have if you don't have any break out boards or bread board friendly packages of your chip.  As for this particular device I didn't have any trouble using it but again I only used it a couple of times and I haven't used it since.

    Kapton Tape (50mm*33m)

    Amazon Link:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00N1QZY4M/

    I purchased this large roll of Kapton tape to do some modifications to a T961 Reflow Oven.  It has worked very well and I've found myself using it a couple of other places around the house.  Its tolerance of high temperatures and being that it's non-conductive it can have a number of electronic hobby uses.  ...

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  • PCB Art with OSHPark After Dark

    09/26/2019 at 15:59 2 comments

    Disclaimer: The OSHPark boards pictured were designed by me (TwinkleTwinkie) but were paid for by OSH Park.

    OSHPark recently announced their new "After Dark" finish option for their PCB Prototyping service which brings a wonderful new alternative to their traditional Purple Solder Mask & ENIG Copper Finish.  "After Dark" brings two major changes to what you normally see from an OSH Park board:  Black FR4 and a Clear Solder Mask.

    Left: Purple Mask & FR4 TG180, Right: Clear Mask & Black FR4, other than the finish and cutting out the gear symbol the design files were identical.

    Black FR4 is one of my personal holy grails for creating PCB Art.  Although it isn't exactly unobtainium it is typically expensive and only a handful of Fabs have it as an option so as a result is rarely seen, even in #BadgeLife.  The only example of it I am aware of is Queercon 13's Blooper Badge.

    QC13's "Blooper" Badge with its various "Hats", the predecessor to the SAO - Photo by Eric Quaintance, Badge by Evan Mackay, George Louthan, and Jonathan Nelson

    Blooper's amazing aesthetics is owed in part due to its use of a Clear Solder Mask & Black FR4 substrate.  It was so influential that it pushed me over the edge to try out PCB Art and directly inspired the Mr. Robot Badge by @MrRobotBadge the following year.

    Thanks to OSHPark's addition of their "After Dark" option this once rare combination is now readily available to anyone, and the best part is it doesn't cost more than their normal option!  So to prepare you for making your own "After Dark" PCB Art I've updated my "Pharaoh OSHCat" SAO to show off the new characteristics and capabilities of this new option.

    Two "After Dark" Variations on Pharaoh OSHCat

    Clear Solder Mask

    Working with a clear solder mask isn't really any different than working with an otherwise opaque solder mask.  Artistically it gives us two colors: Copper, & Shiny Dark Gray.  The copper color comes from the copper that is under the clear solder mask.  The Shiny Dark Gray comes from the clear solder mask where there is no copper under it.  

    With most solder masks the presence of the Solder Mask and the Copper layer just means you get a lighter color of whatever the Solder Mask is, the exceptions being Black & White which are completely opaque.  With a Clear Solder mask, as the name implies, you see the copper traces almost as if they didn't have any copper finish or solder mask on them.  What this means is we can show off the beauty of the copper without directly exposing it and it also still gives us the use of the Copper Finish, in this case ENIG, to create stark contrasts in color.

    When designing PCBs, the areas in black on a Solder Mask Layer is where the solder mask is removed in manufacturing.

    Black FR4

    The Matte Black comes from the total absence of the Solder Mask & Copper.  Its color and "finish" comes from the bare Black FR4 and its matte color and reflectivity is somewhere between a normal Black Solder Mask and a Matte Black Solder Mask.   From an art & design perspective this means instead of just one dark shade of black to work with you get two:  The shiny dark gray from the presence of the solder mask, and the very dark black from the total absence of both the solder mask and copper layers.  This reflectivity could be used in some creative ways when presented in the right lighting conditions.

    Left: Standard Black Solder Mask, Middle: Exposed Black FR4, Right: Matte Black Solder Mask

    Other than the obvious black color some other differences between Black FR4 and typical FR4 is that Black FR4 does not light up green under UV Light and because it is black it is completely opaque.  Because it is completely opaque you cannot use Black FR4 when you intend to...

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