Screaming Circuits: Events and activities

The Value of Open Source

There were a number of interesting sessions and debates last week at the DesignWest show. One of the more passion filled, was on the value of Open Source hardware. Some people think it will save the world,if only everyone will do everything open source. Some people think it's a stupid waste of time without a real business model.

Personally, I see more value in it than either of those extremes. What I see is that open source hardware (and software) has lowered the barriers to entry for people who want to create, design, build and sell. Yes, big companies innovate, but a vast amount of innovation and employment comes from small companies that start out without anything more than ideas.

A decade ago, before open source hardware became well know, it was pretty difficult and expensive to start a hardware company. In fact, I recall quite a few predictions and discussions about the death of hardware as an industry in the country. Open source hardware has lowered the barriers to entry and raised the level of awareness of hardware to the point that now, in my opinion, the environment is as ripe for start-up companies and innovation as was the late 1970's and 1980's.

Open source hardware has given us that, and that will be far more positively economically impactfull than whether or not an specific business can find a way to make money with open source hardware. These new businesses may or may not sell open source hardware. Again, that's far less important than the fact that open source hardware has really enabled so many more people to create.

DesignWest; San Jose April 23 - 25

DesignWest map 2013Will you be there? We will.

If you're in San Jose April 23, 24 or 25, stop by the McEnery Convention center, in San Jose, California. We're in booth 838 and would love to see you and say hi.

We'll be demoing our on line, real-time turn-key prototype quote and order system.

The show is open:

Tuesday 11:00am to 7:00pm
Wednesday 11:30am to 5:30pm
Thursday 11:30 to 4:00.

If you'd like, you can also look up the sessions I'll be speaking at:

Designing a Tele-Presence Robot - What Was I Thinking?
Processors and Programmable Devices
Session Code:   ESC-212
Location:   Salon 4
Date:   Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Time:   9:15 AM - 10:15 AM

FPGAs: I know nothing ... yet.
Lessons and Lessons Learned
Session Code:   STS-304
Location:  210 GH
Date:   Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Time:   2:00 PM - 2:45 PM

I also play a very small part in:

Gadget Freaks
Session Code: ET-06
Location: Expo Theater
Date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Time: 5:00 PM – 5:45 PM


10 Computer Languages in 45 Minutes
Tech Fundamentals
Session Code:   FUN-300
Location:  210 EF
Date:   Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Time:   8:30 AM - 9:15 AM

It will be a busy show and with all of the class sessions and exhibitor booths, there will be plenty to do. I think it's hot in San Jose now, so I'm going to leave my coat at home.

Duane Benson
Someone told me it's a long, long way, but I'm not walking so I don't care.




Reliable Assembly

For those of you at my PCB West session on the 27th, thanks for attending. Here's the final presentation as delivered:

Download PCBwest2012 DuaneBenson ReliableManf

Duane Benson


I wandered over to the Ti booth here at the Embedded Systems conference to check out the Beaglebone and the MSP430 Launchpad. We haven't built any Beaglebones yet, but a few years back we took the Open source Beagleboard files and built up a couple to show our Package on package (POP) workmanship. The Beaglebone doesn't use POP, but it is open source. As are the "Capes." They call their expansion cards capes. I get a vision of Underdog when I hear that name.

What caught my eye was their selection of Capes available now.
All of those are open source. They provide functionality such as displays, battery power, CAN, prototyping and more.

The other product I looked at was the MSP430 Launchpad. I've been getting to know the launchpad myself and wanted to see what's new with it. 0328121213The unit shown here has a DSP and a little display driven by the MSP430. It's a MP3 player with the purpose of introducing the DSP and MSP430 / DSP combination.

Ti is doing an amazing job of making evaluation of their chips easy and inexpensive. I've seen a few other companies providing more complete and less expensive than traditional dev boards as well. NXP with their LPC series to name one. It's a good idea and a good trend as far as I'm concerned.

Duane Benson
Robots good. Neurotic thermonuclear devices bad.


ESC / Design West 2012

0327121200aIt's day one here at the show. It's still mostly called ESC but they've included a number of other shows under the name Design West.

I haven't had a lot of time to run around yet, but I have run into two robots. The first one, over at the Intel booth, is based on an ATOM embedded motherboard and a Microsoft Kinect. I stopped to take a picture and it rolled over to visit. It tried to follow me when I left, but it's owner caught it before it got too far away. It's driven by an 0327121234open source software suite and targeted at university programs. I didn't have time to get the details, but if you're here at the show, drop over and check it out. Just walk fast or it might try to tag along behind you

The second robot was at Ti. It didn't follow me, but it did balance on two wheels for me.

Duane Benson
I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords

Showing Off at ESC 2012

Yes, we show off sometimes. We show off and get self congratulatory and self promotional. 'Cause that's what tradeshows are all about. Well, they're about that, but they're also about meeting and listening to people and other good things. In any case, we are proud of what we do (otherwise I wouldn't be doing it) so we go to tradeshows and show off.

In March, we're going to the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, California. We'll be in booth number 1437 (map here). Show hours are as follows:

Tuesday, March 27 - 11:30am - 7:00pm
Wednesday, March 28 - 11:30am – 5:30pm
Thursday, March 29 - 10:30am – 3:00pm

Bb-partWe always bring some samples of our work for people to hold on to. We've brought the two Beagleboards that we assembled and a few other pieces of our handiwork. It's cool to pick them up and hold them, but with parts so tiny, it's not easy to really see what you need to see from an assembler - the solder joints. So this year, we're bringing some big monitors and a USB microscope. I've got my eye on this one from Adafruit. As of this writing, it's out of stock, and I'm anxiously waiting for notice that it's back in stock.

Duane Benson
Let's get small

Happy binary Veteran’s Day - 11/11/11


ESC Robot Attendees

ESC Boston 2011 016 cr (Medium) We've been hanging out in Boston at the ESC show. Yesterday was a busy day with lot's to look at and lot's of folks at our booth. Some human, some not. The Freescale people, just a few booths down, brought along a tele-presence robot.

The little guy wanderd here and there a bit. It's a cool concept, but I think it didn't quite live up to it's potential. They really should have registered it as an attendee. It did have a little card hanging around it's neck, but I don't see why it couldn't have had a genuine show badge. If it were me, I would have had it actually stopping by booths, talking to people and collecting goodies.

Still, it was a fun demo and, presumably, an example of Freescale chips in action.

Duane Benson
I salute our new robot tradeshow overlords

Loooooooow Power

ESC Microchip clock 001 (Large) It's not quite grape power, but over in the Microchip booth, the EverReady folks were handing out little digital clock demos. Nothing sounds the least bit interesting about that, except what they're really showcasing is a little Microchip step-up DC-DC converter, the MCP1640. They're using that little chip and an Energizer 1.5V AAAA cell to power the chip at 3.3 volts. ESC Microchip clock 003 (Large)

Looking a little closer, it's a PIC16LF1933. On the other side of the battery, there's a set of six unpopulated pads labeled J1. I'm guessing that's the ICSP port. I do have MPLAB on my laptop here and I have my hand, dandy PicKit 3 with me as well. What I don't have with me is a soldering iron and a spare header... Actually, now that I think about it, I do have some six-pin headers down here with me. I might be able to put in into the PicKit and then just hold it tight to the solder pads. I'll probably sleep tonight though instead of staying up and writing something fun for this to do. I'd probably spend most of the night just trying to get the fuse bits figured out. A project for another day.

Duane Benson
It's a little big to strap on my wrist

Blackout at ESC

There's always excitement at ESC. Almost always, anyway. I think in 2009, it was mostly just spooky quiet. If I remember correctly, the theme for that year was: "but I'm not dead yet..."

Our booth, 823, is across from LeCroy this year. They do cool test equipment. I visited them a few years back to get humiliated by Guitar Hero on the Wii. I didn't play guitar hero this year, but I did get to watch the line for their beer cart and the longer line to get the little robots from Atmel, also near us.

Being mostly stuck in my booth, I haven't been able to get out and about much to see what else is here, but  Blackout fortunately, some of the excitement came to me. At approximately 4:36, the hall went dark in black out. As you can see from the photo, it was completely out except for the occasional dim glow of a laptop here and there. Me and my booth crew considered doing some looting, but we couldn't agree on who would pick up a chair and throw it through a window or a monitor.

Half a minute later, we had some emergency lighting and about ten minutes after that, the main lights started coming back on with the convention center's generators. The power stayed out for the final 45 minutes of the show. As frequently happens, stories of unknown legitimacy started flowing around. The best was that the power was our from Gilroy to just South of San Francisco. Record heat was given as a reason in one case. I'm not sure that 80 degrees should qualify as record heat, but who knows.

Back at the hotel, the elevators were running slowing on generator power. I chose to take the stairs. After a brief stop in our rooms, we were going to go out and hunt down a wild beast to cook on the open fires in the street, but the power came back on and we couldn't find any open fires.

Duane Benson
Tomorrow we we eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.