Friday, December 24, 2010

Arduino-Controlled Christmas Lights

It's not anything particularly impressive in the automatic Christmas light control category, but this is what I put up for the holidays.
Video:


It isn't much more than an Arduino and the TRIAC switch box out of my lamp control system.  The TRIACs are hung under the eves, with bell wire run into the garage where I have the Arduino board on an outlet timer.  It appears that the system is missing pull-down resistors on the TRIACs, since one of the channels leaks when the Arduino shuts down, glowing very dimly all day.  It never ended up being a problem, but since my TRIAC circuit is clearly wrong, I won't post it.


Source Code:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Build Your Own Cloud Chamber

This last weekend, I had one of my friends down from Davis to experience the awesomeness that is the South Bay.  In addition to the typical Halted, Excess Solutions, and Weird Stuff, we also spent a day each going to the Exploratorium and the USS Hornet, which are both very good museums (Another we wanted to hit was the Computer History Museum, but they're closed for construction).  While at the Exploratorium, we saw an enormous cloud chamber, which is a device which allows you to see charged particles with the naked eye.  Theirs was quite big, being about the size of a desk, but I thought that even making a relatively small one would be pretty cool.  Marissa had to get back to Davis for work, but my best friend Jeff from middle school (Nine freakin years ago!) is back from Chicago for the month, and he's as big a nerd as I am, so we decided that today was a good day to try it.
The principle of operation of a cloud chamber is based on triggered condensation of saturated alcohol vapor.  In a closed container, you warm liquid alcohol on the top, then cool the bottom with dry ice.  As the alcohol falls to the bottom of the chamber and cools, it begins to condense, but it needs something to condense on, much like rain.  The typical trigger for this is dust, but once the air in the container becomes relatively clean, other irregularities start to trigger the condensation.  It turns out that alpha and beta particles, and muons, which hit the Earth all the time, slightly ionize the air as they pass through it, which is actually enough to trigger the alcohol to condense along the particle's path as it decelerates.  These alcohol trails are short-lived, but clearly visible with the naked eye (if not my video camera).

It actually worked!  This video was taken at the end when we finally got it working, which means I had spent the last three hours inhaling IPA and CO2 fumes, so pretty much ignore everything I say about which particles you're seeing; I'm wrong.  Just read the Wikipedia article for it.

Video:




Starting at the beginning, Jeff and I had no idea what we were doing.  I read a few vague articles on the principle of operation, but we had no real solid plans or expectation for it to work.
First step was collecting the materials.  Only critical parts are a container, some form of alcohol, dry ice, and some black paper.  For the container, my dad happened to have a 4L Erlenmeyer flask from his chemistry days at Berkeley, which was perfect for this project.  Different articles said different things about which alcohols you can or can't use, but we found a 16oz bottle of 99% Isopropyl alcohol at Safeway, and that worked for us.  We also bought 6lbs of dry ice at Safeway at $1.49/lb, which was pretty easy (just ask for a brick of ice at a register and show ID).
We decided to try and have a heated alcohol reservoir like they had in the Exploratorium instead of just soaked rags or paper, so we went to Halted and picked up some power resistors and a sample vial.  We didn't see much difference between this and just a hand-warmed rag, so I wouldn't recommend bothering with this unless you want to run it for a long time like for a science fair.
Soldering together a crude immersion heater.
The final heater in the sample vial of alcohol, hanging in the top of the flask by some light baling wire (family go-to tool, even two generations after moving from Montana).

Once the alcohol source was taken care of, the next step is to cool the bottom of the flask to cause it to condense again.  Our first attempt was by adding crushed dry ice into the flask, but this didn't work, causing a ton of turbulence by the subliming ice.
This is wrong; don't put the dry ice in the container.

This also didn't allow us to use the black paper on the bottom of the flask, so we tried again instead placing the dry ice in a pie pan around the flask.  This removed the turbulence problem, and we started seeing falling droplets in the flask.

This got us very close to a working cloud chamber.  The final trick was that it is CRITICAL that you have a standing pool of alcohol on the bottom of your container.  Without this pool, it's impossible to generate the saturated layer you need to see the alpha and beta trails.  After each time we opened the flask and adjusted something, it took about ten minutes for the flask to cool down again and form the temperature gradient from top to bottom needed.

So the tricks here are:
  • Keep the dry ice out of the container and finely powdered to better cool the container (unless you manage to get a flat piece, you lucky dog you)
  • You can use drug store IPA, and don't need anything more than your hand to warm it.
  • Lay a piece of black paper on the bottom of the flask to see the white droplets against
  • Have a pool of alcohol on the bottom to help form the saturated region
Overall, it was a very cool project, and at only $2 for the IPA and $10 for twice the dry ice we needed, it isn't that expensive of an experiment either.



Of course, once we had had enough electron spotting, we had to do something with the rest of the dry ice.
Video:


This may or may not have ended up with me managing to freeze a pie pan to the garage floor for several hours before the rest of the dry ice sublimed away...

Track Changing Public IP Addresses (with a Chumby)

I spent the winter break down in Sunnyvale with my parents for a month, which was somewhat unfortunate because their internet is very unstable, but only when it rains...  We're talking pretty much unusable for 6-12 hours after any form of precipitation.  Of course, isolating it to this correlation took a tremendous amount of work of itself, but to really finally get it fixed, we needed more data.  This was because AT&T takes 4-5 days after you call to get a technician out to look at your phone line, and the likelihood of us being able to call AT&T five days before a rainstorm is... marginal...

Once AT&T got here, if they didn't see anything wrong, they were going to hit us with $55 for wasting their time (ohhh the irony).  If we actually had some physical evidence to prove our theoretical correlation between rain and poor phone line quality, the likelihood of getting charged the $55 was reduced.

With the Chumby as my most recent hammer [1] [2], this certainly looked like a nail.  Write a short shell script on the Chumby, which is the closest thing to a computer which is always on, to periodically log our public IP address to a text file.  Then when it rains and the internet goes down, we get several hours of no public IP address, and a different one when the modem comes back online and gets a new DHCP lease from Earthlink.  To make monitoring the logs easier, my dad and I worked on a CGI script on the Chumby's web server to display the logs in an easy to read manner (I needed his help with AWK, which I have never done anything more than 'print $3' with before).



This was our result.  (The actual collected data can be viewed on the Chumby itself, which is finally back online after this internet connection problem and some DNS issues)

The logging script is not much more than an hourly cron job dumping the current time and the interesting line out of a wget http request to chumby.com's geoip location service.
logip.sh:


The resulting log file from this script ends up looking like this, which is a little challenging to scan quickly:

Sat Dec 11 12:00:01 PST 2010
<geoip ip="99.39.7.160" iso_country="US">
Sat Dec 11 13:00:02 PST 2010
<geoip ip="99.39.7.160" iso_country="US">
Sat Dec 11 14:00:02 PST 2010
<geoip ip="99.39.7.160" iso_country="US">
Sat Dec 11 15:00:02 PST 2010
<geoip ip="99.39.7.160" iso_country="US">
Sat Dec 11 16:00:01 PST 2010
<geoip ip="99.39.7.160" iso_country="US">



The CGI script takes this log file, and formats each pair of lines to a single line which is much easier to read.  Additionally, it filters the results by eliminating all the lines that have the same ip address as the one before it by using uniq -f 7, which filters duplicate lines, ignoring the first six fields.
ipaddrlog.sh:


Note that the meat of this shell script, the awk command, doesn't have the program inline like is common for simple shell scripts, but instead references an external file, since the awk script ended up being several lines.  It also uses the argument -F\", which tell awk to use the double quote instead of white space to seperate fields (the backslash is to escape the double quote from the shell).  This splits the XML tag returned by geoip into five fields, so picking out the IP address is simply a matter of used regular expressions to determine if the IP address is returned before or after the country code (which is what you're supposed to actually be interested in).  The date lines will always start with an M, T, W, F, or S, so if a line starts with that, we want to go to a new line and print that and the % before finding the next IP address in the log.
ipaddrformat.awk:

As you can see, each line of an AWK program consists of two parts.  First, there is a regular expression condition, which tests for some specified pattern.  If that pattern happens to be matched by the current line being processed, the commands inside the { } are run on that line.

Take the first line, for example.  The pattern it looks for is /^[MTWFS]/.  The ^ means "starting at the beginning of the line", and the [...] means "one of these characters", so this pattern is looking for lines that start with any of M, T, W, F, or S.  If this condition is met, the command is run, which is printf("\n%s %% ", $0).  This means to print a new line (\n), print a string (%s), and print a % symbol (Have to escape it with a second one since % has special meaning for printf), and oh yeah, the string to print is $0, which in AWK is the entire line.  So this gets us the date and a % sign on a new line.  AWK then looks on the next line of the log file to find an IP address to place after the %.

This is done by the second and third lines, which are effectively the same except they handle the two cases where the XML comes back with either the country code or the IP address first.  For the sake of an example, we'll look at the first of the two:
/.*"US".*"[0-9.]*"/{printf ("%s",$4)}
The regex pattern is /.*"US".*"[0-9.]*"/.  The period (.) means any character, and the asterisk (*) means zero or more of the previous character, so ".*" means any number of any character, before the first ", which is the field delimiter for this specific program (via the -F/" argument).  Between the first and second ", there must be the string 'US', which obviously will break if this server leaves the country, but I don't plan on doing than, and changing it to match two of any letters would be relatively simple with ".." (match any character, twice).  After the second ", there's another .*, so any number of any characters, then the meat of the pattern, which is the IP address.  IPv4 addresses only consist of digits and periods, so we can say [0-9.]*, which means any number of (*) the digits 0-9 and periods ([0-9.]), which is what we're interested in. There's then another ", and that's the end of the pattern, if not the line.  The command to execute for lines matching this pattern is fairly simple, being only printf("%s", $4)

Taking the first two lines of the log, you can see how this converts the log into the result shown below.
Sat Dec 11 12:00:01 PST 2010
<geoip ip="99.39.7.160" iso_country="US">

The first line starts with an S, matching the first AWK line, so it's printed on a new line with a % symbol after it.  The second line has an IP address in the second field, and US in the fourth, so it matches the third pattern, and AWK prints only the second field, giving the final result for the two lines:

Sat Dec 11 12:00:01 PST 2010 % 99.39.7.160

The final result of this exercise looks like this (which can also be seen live on the Chumby):

Sat Dec 11 12:00:01 PST 2010 % 99.39.7.160
Sun Dec 12 09:00:02 PST 2010 % 99.169.83.64
Sun Dec 12 10:00:01 PST 2010 % 
Sun Dec 12 12:00:02 PST 2010 % 99.179.45.111
Sun Dec 12 13:00:01 PST 2010 % 99.39.7.106
Sun Dec 12 17:00:02 PST 2010 % 99.155.195.56
Sun Dec 12 18:00:01 PST 2010 % 99.179.45.138
Mon Dec 13 06:00:02 PST 2010 % 76.254.19.123
Mon Dec 13 09:00:02 PST 2010 % 99.35.216.67
Tue Dec 14 09:00:02 PST 2010 % 99.35.216.109
Tue Dec 14 10:00:01 PST 2010 % 99.155.195.140
Tue Dec 14 14:00:02 PST 2010 %
Tue Dec 14 15:00:02 PST 2010 % 99.17.204.184

Luckily, we happened to get a very good AT&T tech, who didn't see anything wrong with the line tester (of course it wasn't raining that day), but climbed up the phone pole and said he didn't like how one of the wire crimps looked, so he switched us over to the spare phone line into our house and our internet has been stable ever since.

If you want to learn more about programming in AWK, the de facto book for which is The AWK Programming Language written by the three authors of the original program:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Driving VFDs for Fun and Profit (And More Clocks)

Continuing my unstoppable obsession with clocks, I built another one this summer based around a vacuum fluorescent display I found at Excess Solutions (one of the many local bay area electronics salvage stores).  VFD's are pretty cool, because instead of having each segment be an LED in typical displays, a series of wires and meshes are used to shoot free electrons at a phosphor, which then creates the light you see from the display.
VFDs are unfortunately also very challenging, due to the fact that they require voltages in the range of 40-70V, well in excess of the 5V my trusty AVRs can handle.  While pondering how to handle this challenge, short of building 20 transistor-based voltage buffers, I stumbled upon the AdaFruit Ice Tube clock, which drives a VFD (along with a much more developed interface than any of my clocks...).  Lady Ada is kind enough to publish all of her kit schematics, so why try and figure out how to drive the display myself, when she's already found a functional solution?
(As you can see in this picture, the off segments aren't entirely off, since I'm only grounding them and not negatively biasing them.  The contrast is much better in person than in these photos)

This solved two of my problems.  It turned me onto the MAX6921 VFD buffer chip, which is the shift register and the voltage buffers combined in one chip, and it gave me the circuit I needed for the charge pump to step the 5V coming from my power supply to the 40V needed to light the VFD segments.  Thanks LadyAda!
The problem with the MAX6921 is that it only comes in surface mount packages.  AdaFruit uses the PLCC package, which is square and has pins on all four sides.  I wanted something a little more breadboard friendly, so I opted for the SOIC package, along with a breakout board from Electroboards.  This means I can now feed 40V and 5V logic signals into the MAX6921 buffer to drive the VLD.
The only challenge left is how to generate the 40V.  Again borrowing a page from AdaFruit, I used a power inductor and a transistor to pump the 5V power supply up to the needed 40V.  They used a MOSFET in their circuit, but I was putting this clock together during the silicon shortage last year, so the MOSFETs they used weren't available.  As a shot in the dark, I tried using a standard 2N2222, which happened to work out fine, as long as you didn't exceed the 100V rating on it, which is surprisingly precise.  This means the 5V is fed through the inductor, which on the other end is alternately grounded and shunted through a Schottky diode to a high voltage capacitor.  This is called a boost converter.  Feel free to hit Wikipedia for a better explanation.

The rest of the clock is a fairly typical DS1307 talking to an ATTiny2313, which then multiplexes the digits of the VFD at 300Hz.

Video:


Source code listing at the end of the post!



So how do VFDs work?
 Vacuum fluorescent displays work on a similar principle to vacuum tubes, not that I expect that analogy to help.  If you look closely at a VFD, which you likely see every day in appliances like your microwave or car stereo, you'll see a few tiny wires running from left to right, and thin grates, or grids, covering each digit.  A current flows through the wires, heating them, which makes it easier for them to eject electrons in vacuum.  These electrons are attracted to positive charge.
Using the grids on each digit, you can control whether electrons are guided to it or not, based on it's voltage relative to the cathode wires.  0V would make the grids not very attractive, where +40V would make the electrons much more attracted to the grids, because electrons are negatively charged.  The electrons are then attracted to the grids, but most of them miss the grid, and fly through the holes in the grid towards the segments.  Controlling the segments is much the same, each segment is either biased 0V for off, or ~40V for on.  The segments are coated with a phosphor, which when struck by flying electrons, lights up, usually a nice bright teal color, like in the picture at the top of this post.  To reduce the number of required pins on a display, all of each segment are wired together, so to independently control every segment, you would individually positively bias a control grid, and the segments for that digit you want lit, then bring the grid negative again and do the same for the next digit.  This means only one grid is every positively biased, and attracting electrons, at a time.

Source Code:

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Workspace

Four-Three-Oh has been doing features of people's workspaces, so I figured I would jump on the band wagon and post some quick shots of mine.

 This first shot is my main electronics desk (yeah, cause I've got several desks squeezed into my apartment, like a boss).  The desk itself was custom made at a local machine shop in Sunnyvale.  There are two holes (you can see one to the left of the spool of solder on the main surface), which I can insert a crank handle into to raise and lower the desk from anywhere between very low and standing-desk-for-someone-short, which isn't quite me.

On the desk itself, from left to right, is the control panel for my apartment lights, some random Li-Ion batteries, a power strip and switch box, which I use for my cheapo Weller soldering iron, which is sitting in a Radio Shack third hands, an HP 3435 multimeter, my Chumby One, some chocolate chips (I freakin love chocolate!), and my final project for EEC180A Digital Systems.

The top level has a bunch of random class papers, lots of random pieces of wire and passives, an eight port gigabit switch, and my main WRT54GL (of six) [1] [2].

On the book shelf below the desk is all of the text books for my classes at UC Davis.

Not shown in this picture is the desk to the right of it, which has my main desktop computer on it (running Ubuntu 10.04), and 20 feet of textbooks not for class, but personal use (computer science, electronics, metallurgy, welding, civil engineering, battle tactics, science fiction, etc).  Also not shown is my walk-in closet, in which I only have three shirts, but a ton of boxes of cables and wires and e-waste, and 5 digikey boxes FULL of components for projects.  My closet just kind of becomes the dumping ground for stuff...

 This is my third desk, which has some of the bigger equipment on it.  On the left is a 7MHz Tectronics scope, which was new in mid-1970's, so the fact that it has digital memory is a big deal.  Next to that is a 1000x metallurgical reflective microscope, which I don't use for anything more serious than just looking at stuff (see below for some pictures from it).  Not much else of interest except for another computer (of the eleven I happen to own, most through people giving them to me), and spare monitors.  Right behind the scope is our Femtocell miniature cell phone tower, which gives us much better cell phone reception throughout the house through our internet connection.

I've never tried taking pictures through the microscope before, but these turned out pretty well, so I might try this again some time.  These are both pictures of a penny at 1000x magnification, which is more impressive than it is useful, due to the tight focal depth and almost instant motion sickness when you use it this high.  It has 5 optics, for 100, 200, 400, 600, and 1000x, and I usually just use the 200x one.

It was originally designed for looking at 3" wafers, which have gone out of style, so living in the Silicon Valley means I actually managed to snap this thing for free.
That is old Abe's head on the penny. On the back. In the Lincoln Memorial.  Yeah, the statue in the middle.  His shoulders are just below the frame.
This is just a random close-up of a flatter part of the penny, to show how you can see the crystalline nature of the copper no problem.  Playing with this while growing up really made the whole concept of metallic crystals in Properties of Materials less of a big deal...

I will definitely spend the rest of the month (yay no more school!) working on getting some good shots of stuff on this thing.  I haven't played with it in a while.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Soldering the GoodFET 31

I ordered all of the parts for two GoodFET 31 boards a few weeks ago, and the last of it finally came in today.  The GoodFET is an open source JTAG adapter, which has additional features, much like the bus pirate, allowing it to interface using several other protocols such as SPI or really any other protocol which you feel inspired to script for them.

The challenge of the GoodFET is that it isn't sold anywhere prebuilt, let alone sold as a kit, leaving the only option of ordering a board from the GoodFET team, and the rest of the parts from your standard parts supplier.  Since several of these parts are minimum quantity 10, and you only need two per board, I decided to order enough of everything else to build two complete boards.  The components and blank PCBs worked out to be about $25, which is a pretty good deal for two bus pirate like devices.
The finished boards.

Parts list:
I soldered the boards using the fairly standard solder paste and hot plate reflow technique.  Lacking a solder paste mask means that before reflowing the board, you need to spend a lot of time with a toothpick to make sure you have the amount of paste down correctly to save yourself rework later with solder wick braid and an iron.
Here is a slightly blurry picture of all of the components placed on the board with solder paste.  The exact amount of paste is an art more than a science when manually applied, so don't expect your first few attempts to turn out perfect.  I used a pair of tweezers and a few steel picks to place the parts.  You don't need to get the parts perfectly placed on the pads, but just close enough such that surface tension can do its job to pull them the rest of the way, which you can see in the video.

Reflow Video:

As you can tell, I was really excited in the video.  Unfortunately, the coffee I had while working on the first board started to kick in while I was working on the second board.  It is amazing how much caffeine can destroy your fine motor control.  I managed to drop the molten board, then flick several parts into oblivion on the second board.  The surface tension worked beautifully for this first board to pull in all the parts, but I didn't get the chips centered close enough on the second one, which then reflowed the 232 chip one pad off, which meant reflowing the board and edging it over into place.

As you can see in this (amazing) photo (thanks, prosumer camera!), the first board had a little too much solder paste on the IC pads.  This meant some manual rework with a soldering iron, flux, and copper braid to pull out the extra solder between pins.  A 30x jewelers loupe definitely helps find the less obvious bridges.

After rework, the solder bridges were all taken care of, the board checked for shorts and opens, and we're ready to plug it in to reprogram it.

I programmed these GoodFETs using my desktop running Ubuntu 10.04, and ran into some problems along the way.  The infodumps ran fine for both boards, but when it came time to program the MSP430s with the GoodFET firmware, the script kept dying.  90% of the time it gave a timeout error like the following, 7% of the time it gave a NACK error (bad password), and 3% of the time, it programmed fine.


kenneth@KWF2:~/prog/goodfet$ sudo goodfet.bsl --fromweb
MSP430 Bootstrap Loader Version: 1.39-goodfet-8
Use -h for help
Use --fromweb to upgrade a GoodFET.
Mass Erase...
MSP430 Bootstrap Loader Version: 1.39-goodfet-8
Use -h for help
Use --fromweb to upgrade a GoodFET.
Mass Erase...
Transmit default password ...
Invoking BSL...
Transmit default password ...
Current bootstrap loader version: 2.2 (Device ID: f227)
Grabbing f227 firmware.
http://goodfet.sourceforge.net/dist/msp430x2274.hex
  % Total    % Received % Xferd  Average Speed   Time    Time     Time  Current
                                 Dload  Upload   Total   Spent    Left  Speed
100 33993  100 33993    0     0  46812      0 --:--:-- --:--:-- --:--:-- 80743
Program ...
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 1750, in 
    main(0);
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 1688, in main
    for f in todo: f()                          #work through todo list
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 1151, in actionFromweb
    self.programData(fw, self.ACTION_PROGRAM | self.ACTION_VERIFY)
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 925, in programData
    self.programBlk(currentAddr, seg.data[pstart:pstart+length], action)
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 910, in programBlk
    self.verifyBlk(addr, blkout, action & self.ACTION_VERIFY)
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 873, in verifyBlk
    blkin = self.bslTxRx(self.BSL_RXBLK, addr, len(blkout))
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 668, in bslTxRx
    rxFrame = self.comTxRx(cmd, dataOut, len(dataOut))  #Send frame
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 445, in comTxRx
    rxFrame = self.comRxFrame(rxNum)
  File "/usr/local/bin/goodfet.bsl", line 362, in comRxFrame
    if len(rxFramedata) != rxLengthCRC: raise BSLException("Timeout")
__main__.BSLException: Timeout


The few times I did manage to flash the firmware, the self-test went down in flames:

kenneth@KWF2:~/prog/goodfet$ goodfet.monitor test
Performing monitor self-test.
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Echo test failed.
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
ERROR Fetched 0154, 0302
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
ERROR, P1OUT not cleared.
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Echo test failed.
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
ERROR Fetched 0100, 0302
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
ERROR, P1OUT not cleared.
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Echo test failed.
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
Warning: waiting for serial read timed out (most likely).
##### FOR AS LONG AS YOUR WILLING
TO WATCH IT SCROLL BY #####


This wasn't good.  I double checked the boards, but since the infodumps worked, it looks like we're looking at an intermittent software problem, which is THE WORST KIND OF PROBLEM.
Long story short, some poking around yielded that another program, upowerd, was fighting with python over control of the serial port, which was screwing the bit-banging required to program it.

kenneth@KWF2:~/prog/goodfet$ sudo lsof | grep USB
[sudo] password for kenneth: 
lsof: WARNING: can't stat() fuse.gvfs-fuse-daemon file system /home/kenneth/.gvfs
      Output information may be incomplete.
upowerd   1501          root   11u      CHR      188,0      0t0      18775 /dev/ttyUSB0
python    2389          root    3r      CHR      188,0      0t0      18775 /dev/ttyUSB0

Everyone thank Ubuntu once more for doing more than we asked or wanted it to do, screwing the advanced users yet again.

One "sudo killall upowerd" later, the boards programmed and self-tested fine.  Killing upowerd to use my GoodFET is pretty annoying though, so some more digging was in order.  Between trawling upowerd bug reports, and running /usr/lib/upower/upowerd -v, I finally figured out what the problem was.

Turns out, the problem is that there was some random device made by Watts Up, Inc., which happened to use the FTDI 232 chip (USB ID 0403:6001).  Udev then uses this very generic USB ID (try running lsusb) to identify this specific device, and screws everyone with cheap USB-to-RS232 adapters.  The fix is relatively simple, if obscure.  Delete, or comment out, the udev rule for this device, which is typically stored in /lib/udev/rules.d/95-upower-wup.rules.  Reboot or restart of upowerd later, the GoodFET works fine in Ubuntu.

<evil glare at Ubuntu />


Obviously, it's unlikely I'll ever be using two of these at once, so if anyone wants to give me their best offer, I might be able to be talked into parting with one of these babies, or even make you some more, for $40 (Parts, labor, US shipping).

Edit 2011-02-18: Alex has bought my second board, but I will certainly be willing to purchase, assemble, and ship additional boards for anyone.  You'll just suffer the additional lead-time of me not having the primary components in stock.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Final Project for Digital Systems Course

It's finals week, which is why I've been so quiet, but next week is the start of Winter break, so I'll finally have some free time again.

One of my technical electives this quarter was EEC180A, Digital Systems, which is one of the hardest EEC classes at UC Davis.  I didn't end up learning much in it, but the final lab, which took three weeks, ended up pretty impressive.
Video:


The game consists of flipping one switch to roll a dice to pick a number between one and six.  If you roll a six, you have to add it to your score, otherwise you have the choice to add it or pass.  The goal is to reach 15 points without going over in as few rolls as possible.  It's entirely implemented using TTL gates, though I cheated and used several gates out of my stock in addition to the ones allowed in the class (eg using a 74174 hex D flip flop instead of several 7474 gates).  I also used a 555 for the clock source, where we were only expected to use the lab's function generators.  Since I did most of the work in one night at home, I didn't have a function generator to work with.

No detailed schematic or anything for this one, just thought I'd share why things have been quiet as of late.