Dave Prochnow

For Easy Prototyping, Surf’s Up

These "surfboards" make surface-mount prototyping "boardacious," dude

If you've done a fair amount of electronics circuit building, then you probably dread prototyping. You know prototyping: that point where you take your "perfect" circuit design from paper and transfer it to an initial hardware mockup. Typically, you have three basic choices in this matter, each with its own problem.

Your first choice in circuit prototyping is to lay out your design on a modular breadboard. The strongest virtue of this choice is the elimination of soldering -- all connections are built into the breadboard. Unfortunately, breadboards are bulky and unable to handle surface-mount device (SMD) designs.

Following closely on the heels of breadboard prototyping, your second choice is perfboard layout. Once again, most perfboards are unable to accommodate SMD circuit designs. Plus, the point-to-point wiring needed for connecting the components can be a daunting task.

Which leads us to your final choice for circuit prototyping: custom printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication. Whether you roll your own PCB with DIY masks and etch kits, or hire a fab house to create a custom PCB, time will be your enemy. Fab houses can take upwards of one month for delivery of a finished board (unless you're willing to pay extra for faster service), and making your own PCB can be fraught with frustrating failures and delays which can take days to weeks to solve.

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Pennywise Solar Power

An eight-volt DC solar power plant that fits on a penny

No matter whether you felt that Earth Hour was a terrific conservation tactic or an overhyped PR stunt, energy on our planet is in peril. Our daily juice (be it electric, gasoline combustion, atomic, or carbon-based), has become a precious commodity with at least one guaranteed effect: to elicit an instantaneous hot-button opinion from just about everybody.

What can you do about it? Well, one great proactive demonstration would be to stop your regular consumption of dry-cell batteries. Yes, there are numerous substitutes, ranging from rechargeable varieties to alternative energy replacements, but each of these substitutions has a debit that few of us are willing to pay. You know, "costs" like always hunting for an outlet to power a battery recharging station, or getting rid of a clean, slim-line AA battery for a gargantuan solar-driven bat-winged monstrosity.

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How to Make an iPhone App: Part Three

You thought coding was hard; now it's time to get your app approved

In the previous two installments of this series, we labored through some ornery hardware wrangling and tested our mettle with some serious Objective-C coding, now it's time to deliver our app to the masses.

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How to Make an iPhone App: Part Two

Building a great app: that’s the objective, see?

The third and final installment in this series takes our App to market, err, the App Store.

In the first part of this series, we covered the "nuts and bolts" for assembling a workable iPhone app development platform. Now that our desktop is cluttered with a mess of cables, it's time to roll up our sleeves and start cobbling some code together.

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How to Make an iPhone App: Part One

Gain fame and fortune: become an iPhone app mogul

See part two on coding your App.

Love it or hate it, it's tough to argue about the success of the Apple App Store. While this venture might be a successful cash cow business model for Apple, how does business fare for the app developer? Pretty good, it turns out.

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Give Some Microcontroller Love

Say “I love you” with an “I Love ST” board

From the US PopSci team

Are you looking for a gift for that special someone, that will also have some great practical worth when it's dumped back in your lap on February 15th? The I Love ST microcontroller evaluation board combines touching sentiment with touch capacitance, all wrapped up in a cute little red heart-shaped PCB ringed with red LEDs.

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Dot • Watch

No hands, no numbers; it’s a clock you can count on

Trying to squeeze some new life out of the tried-and-true clock paradigm can be a frustrating design challenge. Likewise, creating a clock from the absolute minimal number of parts (e.g., no more than 6 components) can lead to some sleepless nights. Finally, trying to shoehorn everything into an itty-bitty space (roughly 2-x3-inches) and making it a portable, battery-powered clock can make even a seasoned project builder scream “Uncle!” Getting everything to work like, err, clockwork, priceless.

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Make a Guess Game

No microcontroller, no programming; just a handful of stock ICs—see if you can “guess” what comes next

OK, guess a number between 0 and 15. Wrong! Guess, again. No, I’m not the Amazing Kreskin, I’m just vying for numerical precognitive prediction superiority versus a formidable 74LS193/74LS85 tag team foe. Oh, sure, some of you might call it a game, but this project can be an amazing demonstration of just how much fun you can get from stock ICs.

Derived from a Forrest M. Mims, III project, our Make a Guess game adds a 7-segment LED display for helping you visual your numerical guess. Here’s how it works:

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A Really Tiny tinyCylon

Give your cybernetic “toaster” a new set of eyes

I first mentioned Dale Wheat’s tinyCylon kit during a post regarding the “new” SN76477 complex sound generator IC. In case you missed it, tinyCylon is a small kit that creates 10 different LED flashing patterns with 5 red LEDs, an Atmel ATtiny13 microcontroller, and a 4.5VDC battery pack. In other words it’s an LED blinky PCB—easy to assemble and easy to operate.

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DIY Grow Lights

Create a light system to keep houseplants thriving during the short days of winter

As you huddle inside your home this winter cursing the gloomy darkness, remember that you’re not alone: The season has an even worse effect on your plants. Many common houseplants need far more hours of light than they get naturally in the middle of February, especially if they don’t have direct exposure to a sunlit window. Although the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs most people have in their homes will keep plants alive, they don’t emit light that’s within the temperature range necessary for optimal, or even adequate, foliage growth in light-hungry plants.

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Dot-to-Dot Programming

Ditch that Arduino for an even easier way to build a microcontroller project

OK, you don't have to actually throw away your Arduino, but you might wish to consider this slick alternative the next time you're going to build a temperature-sensing microcontroller project. Or, for that matter, a light-sensing project, or a proximity-sensing project, or a capacitance-sensing project.

This "alternative" is a relatively new kid on the embedded design block called PSoC® FirstTouch, from Cypress Semiconductor Corporation. The Cypress PSoC is better known as a programmable mixed signal array or Programmable System-on-Chip (PSoC). While sporting an 8-bit microcontroller clocking in at a maximum 24MHz and supporting 512 bytes of SRAM, 8KB flash, these rather lackluster specs are offset by four analog and four digital customizable advanced peripheral building blocks (known as PSoC Blocks), and the ability to build a crazy-small microcontroller project.

How small, you ask?

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Polyphemus Demonstration and Evaluation Kit

Build your own Arduino demo board

Every AVR programmer worth her weight in ATmegas knows about the AVR Butterfly--a ridiculously low cost ATmega169 demonstration and evaluation kit. Lamenting the lack of such a kit for the ATmega168 drove me to design my own demo/eval kit for the Arduino microcontroller family.

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Complex Sound Generator IC is Back

Versatile sound effects generator chip is back in stock

After nearly a 30-year absence from the hobby electronics market, the Texas Instruments SN76477N Complex Sound Generator IC is now for sale at BG Micro. It's just like 1973 all over again. Bomb blasts, propeller sounds, snare drums, and sci-fi sound effects will all be back in vogue with the return of this super synthesizer chip.

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This PIC Packs a Punch

A new dev board is an I/O smorgasbord

I/O, I/O, it's off to develop I go!

Sure, it might sound cheesy, but the new UBW32 is a low-cost development board that sports 78 I/O pins! Roughly the size of a big stick of gum, the UBW32 is literally ringed with I/O pins.

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Throwback Gaming Kit

Return to those halcyon days of LED gaming with a Meggy Jr RGB kit

Our friends at Evil Mad Science (the storefront for Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories) have created a great little game machine for soothing those financial scars wrought by the recent economic downturn. Forget the line madness on Black Friday and fighting tooth and nail over the local box store’s solitary Wii.

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