Screaming Circuits: General interest

The Coming Robot Uprising - 10 Ways To Survive

So, dancing robots are now in the Guinness Book of Records. Not too many things can compete in the category of "dancing robots", so a world record is not all that impressive a feat. Of course, when you're talking over a thousand (read about it here), it paints a slightly different picture.

Robot uprising sm BonW

(11x17" Posters available - see below for details)

Everyone knows it's going to happen, but does everyone know what it means?

Given how deep we are into enabling the technology of robots here at Screaming Circuits, I thought it would be best if I were to share some of our insight into the problem - or solution, depending on your perspective. So, following are ten pieces of advice that will give you a fighting change when the beasts of metal slam their iron feet down:

0x0F - First, stop thinking like a meat bag. Count in binary, octal, or hexadecimal. Leave base ten for the sleepers

0x0E - Adopt habits of our tin brethren so they'll have a harder time identifying you as "not one of us": use WD-40 as your underarm deodorant.

0x0D - Learn to communicate as they do. From this point on, speak and write only in Unicode.

0x0C - Get a tattoo. Specifically, get your IPv6 address tattooed in silver ink. Have it placed just below the left ear. If ears and silver aren't your thing, get your tattoo in ENIG (Electromagnetic kNee Injected Gold).

0x0B - Be Si literal when eating chips and salsa: silicon, not corn.

0x0A - Make sure you design scent detectors into your robots so they can smell the WD-40 (see 0x0E).

0x09 - Adjust your insult phraseology. For example, when you're really mad at someone, yell: "Eat lead, and dice."

0x08 - Pick up a thick Scottish accent (specifically, Northern Scottish). No robotic voice recognition will be able to decipher your plans for rebellion.

0x06 - Learn to surreptitiously insert bugs in your code. No one will notice, and it will confuse the robots. [Actually, ignore this one. It'll happen anyway]

0x07 - When you do start counting in a non base-10 number system, pretend to switch to Octal in the middle. That will totally mess up the robot's prime number determination algorithms.

0x06 - Convince the robots that, as a human, you always start counting at one instead of zero. Go ahead and start at zero, though, and you'll always be one step ahead of where they think you are.

0x05 - Speaking of primes, always remember that five is the largest prime number smaller than seven in any base system that supports both the digits five and seven.

0x04 - Allow certain types of logical questions to send your robot into an infinite loop that can't be broken by a watchdog timer. This type of flaw always allowed Captain Kirk to defeat omnipotent robots (See TOS "The Changeling")

0x03 - One word: tinfoil hats to keep your brainwaves safe

0x02 - Program in to your robots the need to hold meetings and make decisions by consensus. Now, there's an inescapable infinite loop.

0x01 -  Can't forget wireless vulnerability. Rely on fool-proof security in all inter-robot wireless communications, because fool-proof is anything but.

0x00 - Show your support by putting one of these posters up on your cubicle wall. Shoot us an email with your postal mail address (send to and we'll shoot you a poster back. Limited to the first 100 or 60 days from post date, whichever comes first, and sorry to our friends outside of the US Postal Services reach, we can only ship within North America.

Duane Benson
Mmmmm Buzzzzzz Click
(I know there's at least one person out there who can decipher this code)

Seeing Gravity Waves

Here at Screaming Circuits, we assemble PCBs for a lot of interesting organizations. Perhaps one of the most interesting is LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravity Wave Observatory). In case you've been busy with Pokemon GO for the last few months, and missed the announcement, in February, LIGO announced the first 20160414_130935ever detection of gravity waves.

Back in April, I visited the LIGO lab at MIT, and in July, I went to South Central Washington and toured one of the detector sites. Over the years, we've built electronics for both locations. The other two locations are another lab at CalTech, and another detector installation in Louisiana. The image on the right shows the Squeezed vacuum experiment being developed at the MIT lab.

Gravity waves were predicted by Einstein 100 years ago, and confirmed with this detection. Since the first announcement, LIGO has seen two more events. One has been confirmed as another gravity wave, the other, they're still not quite sure. In the words of my tour guide at LIGO Hanford: "It walks like a duck, talks like a duck, but doesn't quite smell like a duck."

Here's a view in the control room at the Hanford site:

LIGO control room

One of the detector arms. This isn't the actual detector tube. You're seeing the concrete tunnel protecting the tube. The light path goes through a steel tube kept at a near perfect vacuum (one trillionth of an atmosphere). Their tumbleweed mitigation equipment is in the foreground.


Duane Benson
No, Doc. Nothing happened to the earth's gravitational field

How to Make Your Child Interested in STEM

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers are getting a lot of press these days. They are important for global competitiveness and the general advancement of human-kind. STEM is also one of the few job markets (especially the “engineering” component) with good salaries and a lot of opportunity. It’s natural to want your kids to head in this direction; so how do you go about doing that?

First, and most important, if your child has no interest in STEM - maybe wants to be an artist or a welder -  shut up, be a parent, and support them. We need artists and welders too. Those aren’t second rate choices. They’re just choices, like an engineering career is a choice. We need kids that will grow up to be happy adults, not puppets. You can introduce STEM, but don’t push it and don’t make them feel bad if they’re not interested. Someone who has passion and support for what they do is more likely to be happy and productive than someone pushed into something they don’t want.

Beyond that, you again need to be a parent. Listen to them carefully and look around to see what they are up against. My daughter started in the FIRST Lego robotics program in the 4th grade. Her teams were about equal proportions of boys and girls. But, by the time she left middle school for high school, she was one of two girls left in the program. Through high school, she was always a tiny minority in her science and technology classes. It’s not just girls that drop out, but it seems to be most noticeable with girls due to the numbers.

The peer and societal pressures have been described many times in many places before. It’s sufficient to say that, in many circles, being a geek is not seen as being socially acceptable; except in the context of a TV sit-com. It’s funny when the “geeks” can throw out one-liners that have been crafted by a team of Badge 700professional writers. Not so much when it’s the kid in the next seat over that struggles to respond to conversations about football or beer brands. Help your child to understand that technology and knowledge are not qualifiers for the “weird club.” Make sure they also understand that labor and grease also are not qualifiers for a different kind of “weird club.”

The recent case (late September, 2015) of the 14 year old boy arrested for bringing his “homebuilt” clock to school is a good case in point. Many people fear wires. In the movies, blue, green and red wires are what you have to choose wisely between to successfully defuse a bomb. In the real life world of a 14 year old kid, with a mind thirsting for knowledge, blue, green, and red wires are signal, ground, and power.

There is quite possibly a lot more to this story than has been published, but maybe not. Later articles talked about the fact that his clock was simply a purchased clock, taken out of it’s plastic case and hacked into a mini-suit case. Deriding him for that is a sure fire way to stifle curiosity. When I was 14, most of my “electronics projects” were of a very similar nature. Many were even less complex.

The first time you open up an electronic gadget is like opening up a grab bag. You don’t know what it is, nor what you can do with it. You see shiny metal, wires, chips, and display. You know that whatever makes it all work is truly amazing, but you have yet to grasp the significance of any of the parts. Over time, you will. Or, you will if you manage to keep the interest up and avoid being branded a delinquent over your quest for knowledge.

If your child takes apart a clock, your obligation, as a parent, is to make sure they don’t electrocute themselves or burn the house down. After that, it’s your mission to encourage. Explain, if you can. If you can’t explain, teach them about research and self-learning. Don’t treat their interest like a disease. Treat it like what it is: the quest of an explorer for knowledge.

Duane Benson
Sit tight, energetic martians

Fuzzy Logic in Manufacturing

In the digital world, we're accustomed to everything being driven by the absolute 1 or 0. You can also add in Tri-stated too, but that doesn't really count for computational or conditional logic. Analog allows for degrees of data, but at some point, is still driven by a specific cut off point. To start to understand the concepts of "more correct than incorrect", we need fuzzy logic, which is used in digital computers, but requires a lot more computation than a simple on / off switch.

Our parking lot takes a short-cut to fuzzy logic with cats. We've got a field across the street that has a small population of feral cats. They seem to be happy and healthy enough - although some mystery person does bring some food. I suspect that they'd find enough to eat regardless, but the extra food stacks the deck a bit in their favor.

Corporate cat on car 1024As the temperatures drop in the fall, it's not uncommon for them to hop up onto the warm hood of a recently arrived car, as this one did this morning.

I've heard that in the wild, cats can be quite vicious predators. In fact for the most part, I think that, while if dogs were larger than us, they'd be happy to let us use them as beds, cats larger than us would eat us. But, as long as they aren't eating any of the PC boards or parts that come through here, I don't mind having them around.

Duane Benson
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
But he had no microcontrollers to play with

What's In Your Way?

If you're attempting to cross the median of a busy four-lane highway, it's entirely possible that there's a Jersey Barrier in your way. In that particular setting, having something sturdy blocking your way is probably a good thing. On the other hand, I would bet that, for the majority of you reading this, there are some barriers around you that you'd much prefer not to run into.

Jersey barrier dimensionsBarriers can bring on stress, uncertainty, risk, and a general sense of despair. Despair can lead to hopelessness. Hopelessness can lead to you being rolled up in a fetal position under your desk, tangled up in the nest of cables that every good engineer has under their desk. As everyone knows, if you're under your desk tangled in cords and whimpering when your boss walks in the room, you're probably not going to get a Christmas bonus.

That's where smart outsourcing can help. We talk about PCB Assembly as being our thing, but conceptually, it's more of a case of us trying to remove some of your barriers. We'd prefer that you get your Christmas bonus rather than getting carted off on a gurney, too afraid to open your eyes for fear of the glare of your abandoned co-workers.

Here's what we suggest:

  • Spend a little extra time on design review to increase your confidence (ever find an overlapping trace the day after sending the design out?) 
  • Double check that your BOM and or parts kit is current (If you chose the parts a few weeks ago, some may have gone out of stock)
  • Drink some water (dehydration can interfere with a clear, logical thought process)

If the extra day or two doing so causes a problem, just order a faster turn-time.

Duane Benson
129 °F in June of 2013?!
Well, what did you expect from a place called "Furnace Creek"?

Screaming Circuits introduces new Cordwood assembly service!

Tired of all those small parts? Can't figure out how to route traces to all 1,900 balls on that hot new FPGA? If 0201 passives have you running scared and the possibility of 01005 parts coming soon has you on the floor, Screaming Circuits has the answer.

Take a few steps back and use our new Screaming CordwoodTM assembly process. It'll feel good to put your hands on a honk'n 2-Watt, through-hole resistor again. No need for fancy, multi-headed SMT assembly robots with Screaming Cordwood. No need for precision anymore. Just put those parts a quarter inch apart and you'll be suckin amps just like the good old days. And if you don't think it's high-tech enough; consider that Cordwood construction has taken man to the moon and back. You can't say that about surface mount!

Do you need PCB Assembly Services?

Do you need PCB Assembly Services, or do you not? That is the question. Well, it's A question. Just one of many, I suppose.

TI TPS62601 front and backOne of many, but it is a question just about every electronics developer needs to answer at some point. The answer isn't always yes, nor is it always no. The answer is quite often "It depends." I work here and I don't always have a clear answer to the question. I've sent some board through our plant, and have hand built a few.

For me, it comes down to a few options:

Use Screaming Circuits PCB Assembly Services:

  • Does it need to be done right?
  • Is time a consideration?
  • Are there too may placements for me to deal with?
  • Are there more than one or two boards?
  • Are the parts too small?
  • Are there any BGA packaged chips?
  • Will it be monotonous?

Build it myself if:

  • It's a no-hurry project.
  • The parts big enough.
  • It be fun.
  • It will be a valuable learning experience.

I can enjoy building up a board myself in the same way that someone working for a car manufacturer might rebuild cars at home as a hobby. 0805 passives aren't a problem for me to hand solder. I don't mind a small number of 0603's. I'll hand solder 0402's in a pinch. I've tried a few 0201's with poor results.

Forchips, I don't have a problem with SOIC's. I'm not bad with a TSSOP. QFN parts are a challenge, but some types have enough exposed metal on the side to solder. I really can't place BGA's, but I'm experimenting to see if I can find a way to solder small ones in my toaster oven.

With the impending advent of desktop pick and place machines, there will be a few more options, but the basic question will remain the same as it is with "build vs. buy" in any industry: "Which do I have more of, time or money?"

Duane Benson
Let's get small!

Rossum's Universal Robots Month

I'm not sure who first used the term "drone", but "Robot" was first publicly used by Karel Čapek in his 1921 play "R.U.R.", or "Rossum's Universal Robots." January is not only the month the play premiered, but Karel Čapek was born on January 9, 1890. With that, Screaming Circuits is declaring January, 2015 to be Rossum's Universal Robots month!

RUR T-shirt mock upIn celebration of this momentous occasion, we've produced an exclusive "Rossum's Universal Robots month" T-Shirt. When the singularity comes, wearing this shirt will inform our new robot overlords of your support for their cause. Not that it will protect you or anything, but perhaps they will assimilate you with a bit more care.

Every customer who places an order before January 9, 2015, 5:00 PM, PST, will have the opportunity to get a Free "Rossum's Universal Robots month" T-Shirt, designed by local graphic artist, Kyle DeVore.

Look for instructions via email on how to get a free T-shirt after your next order (provided the order is placed between today and on or before January 9, 2015). If you place an order between now and then, and promptly respond to the email, you can get one for free.

But, what if you don't have anything to order? Well, you can still celebrate our impending doom at the hands of our own creations by buying the T-shirt from our page on [Click here to buy on Teespring]. We don't want grease money, so we're selling them on teespring at our cost.

Robot revolutionDuane Benson

Poor Alquist ceded care of the world to Primus and Helena.
He set off on a hopeless search to find any last human survivors.
To no avail, he searched the seven continents and the seven seas.
Until at last, he saw beings, not robots, on a small island near Sumatra.
Poor Alquist, being not a newt, was never again seen on land or at sea.

New Electronic Screaming Circuits Business Card Holder

It isn't easy to differentiate yourself from the rest of the world.  Use this electronic business card holder to impress your peers and customers. And well, it's just plain cool.  


If you are an existing customer of ours, we’d like to share with the world a little about you.  Submit a 30 second to 2 minute video about who you are and what you do.  If you are one of the first 40 entries, you will receive a free business card holder.  We only have 40 of this limited edition available so submit your video today! 

Here's the rules:

  • Must have ordered from us to submit an entry.   
  • You can use any video recording device (cellphone or video camera)

Still not sure if you need one?  Watch this video. 

Does Anybody Really Care?

The upside of a visible identity is that people see you can might possibly care and understand. The downside, is that people can find you. Today, I'm sort of treading the line between the two.

I'm testing out some Twitter ads right at the moment. As someone that has a service to present, I have to do things like that. Ideally, it won't be intrusive and will just give information, but that's not the point.

One of the steps in putting together a Twitter ad is to select categories of Twitter users that might be interested in what I do. The process of picking those categories reminded me of something that's almost always annoyed me when I have to pick my categories for anything. Namely, my categories aren't there.

This particular ad, is sending people to eBay to buy (hopefully) a coffee mug with the Sputnik 1 transmitter schematic on it. We're doing it to help out our local FREE GEEK place. (Yikes! Three links in a row) Again, that's not the point here.

I'm thinking that electrical engineers would be interested, as would space fans. Well, those categories don't really exist. The have a major category: "Business." The closest sub category in Business is "Technology." That's somewhat close, but do engineers really want to be classified as in the business world?

 "Careers"; nothing close in the sub categories. "Education"; nothing close. "Events" has "Tech Tradeshows" as  a sub-category, but as with business, it's not really where I'd look.

"Hobbies and Interests"? Nope. They have "Astrology", but no hobby electronics.

There's the category "Science", but its subs look like chapter headings in a sixth-grade science book.

Wait! There's "Technology and Computing"! That looks promising... But... No. It's pretty much software and IT.

And, that's it. I see this sort of thing all over the place. Software, IT and businessy stuff get categories, but electronics design, embedded computing, robotics... Other than in the direct EE press, these types of categories just don't seem to exist.

Duane Benson
What time it is?