Posts with «review» label

Review of some electronics kits for kids

Continuing on the topic of "Introduction to Practical Electronics" course, today we are going to look at some of the electronics (soldering) kits available and suitable for the purpose.

What makes a good beginner electronics kit?
  • easy through-hole soldering
  • includes a variety of components
  • reasonably priced (this is relative; what may be expensive for me may be cheap for you)
  • standalone and all-inclusive: does not require extra parts/components/modules sourced from third parties and does not require loading software;
  • interesting (as opposed to boring) functionality: flashes LEDs, displays something on a screen, makes some sounds etc.
  • relative simplicity of the circuit, so it can be easy to understand and debug if necessary
  • aesthetics of the board (shape, colour, component placement etc.)
  • preferably open source
  • powered by low voltage (battery, USB, power adapter)
  • digital electronics rather than analog (easier to debug, if necessary)
  • practical utility: use it for a utilitarian purpose rather than forget about it once built
  • expandability: can be either integrated as part of a bigger project, or its capabilities and functionality can be extended by adding modules or parts
  • provides extra learning (besides soldering) by displaying information: wave forms, frequencies, binary/hex number representation, musical notes, proverbs etc.
  • satisfaction guaranteed once assembled and working  :)
Here is a list, in no particular order, of beginner kits I found to match some of the above criteria.

1. Elenco AM Radio kit


2. Chinese Radio kits: A, B



3. 6-digit LED Clock kit


4. 4-digit LED Alarm Clock kit


5. 4-digit LED Talking Clock kit



6. Elenco two-tone European Siren kit


7. Retro Classic Game (Tetris, Snake etc.) kit


8. 3D Christmas Tree Flashing LEDs kit


9. Electronic Piano kit


10. Electronic 16 Sound Music Box kit


11. Astable Multi-vibrator Circuit Learn kit


12. Mini Speaker Box Amplifier kit


13. Aviation Band Radio Receiver kit


14. Calculator and Counter with LCD and Keyboard kit


15. "Three Fives" Discreet 555 Timer kit


16. TV-B-Gone kit


17. MintyBoost kit


18. MintySynth kit (now discontinued)


19. Drawdio kit


20. Electronic Hourglass LED kit


21. Round LED Clock kit


22. Signal Generator with XR2206 Adjustable Frequency kit


23. Solder:Time Desk Clock kit


24. Geiger Counter kit(s)


25. Wristwatch LED kit


26. Burglar Electronic Alarm kit


27. Conway's Game of Life kit


28. Music Synthesizer kit


29. Line Following Robot kit


30. Jameco Atari Punk Console kit


31. 555 Forrest Mims Project kit(s)



32. Tesla Coil kit


33. Velleman voice changer kit



34. Various badges (Maker, Day of Geek, Unicorn, and many many others)


Wise time with Arduino 14 Apr 23:36
general  review  

Teardown of an Old Dimmer Switch

The 40+ year-old dimmer (made by Nortron Industries Limited in Milton, Ontario) in my attic broke down. Electronically, the dimming circuit still worked, but mechanically, the push button got stuck.
This is what's inside, for the curious.



The active component in the circuit is Q2006LT, a "quadrac" which, according to the datasheet, "is an internally triggered Triac designed for AC switching and phase control applications. It is a Triac and DIAC in a single package, which saves user expense by eliminating the need for separate Triac and DIAC components".

The "reversed-engineered" schematic looks like this:


For those who want to understand more on how the triac-controlled dimmer works, this article provides an in-depth explanation.

The 250V capacitors may be reused in a Nixie high-voltage (~170V) power source. For a hoarder, both the choke and the potentiometer (push button removed) look good.

I will report back on the internals of the replacement switch in 40 years or so, when it breaks down. I hope I/it last(s) that long.

Wise time with Arduino 15 Mar 22:29
general  hacking  review  

Malduino Elite – First Impressions

A while back, I wrote an article about Malduino, an Arduino-based, open-source BadUSB device. I found the project interesting so I signed up for an Elite version and sure enough, the friendly postman dropped it off in my mail box last Friday, which means I got to play around with it over the weekend. For those who missed the article, Malduino is USB device which is able to emulate a keyboard and inject keystrokes, among other things. When in a proper casing, it will just look like a USB flash drive. It’s like those things you see in the movies where a guy plugs in a device and it auto hacks the computer. It ships in two versions, Lite and Elite, both based on the ATmega32U4.

The Lite version is really small, besides the USB connector it only contains a switch, which allows the user to choose between running and programming mode, and a LED, which indicates when the script has finished running.

Original Malduino Elite sketch and Lite prototype

The Elite version is bigger, comes with a Micro-SD card reader and four DIP switches, which allow the user to choose which script to run from the card. It also has the LED, which indicates when a script has finished to run. This allows the user to burn the firmware only once and then program the keystroke injection scripts that stored in the Micro-SD card, in contrast to the Lite version which needs to be flashed each time a user wants to run a different script.

These are the two Malduinos and because they are programmed straight from the Arduino IDE, every feature I just mentioned can be re-programmed, re-purposed or dropped all together. You can buy one and just choose to use it like a ‘normal’ Arduino, although there are not a lot of pins to play around with. This freedom was one the first things I liked about it and actually drove me to participate in the crowd-funding campaign. Read on for the full review.

The Hardware

Malduino Elite vs USB flash drive

So the Elite board arrived as schedule and I found myself some time to look an it. Despite being longer than the Lite version, it’s still quite small, measuring roughly 4.6 cm x 1.1 cm (around 1.8 in x 0.43 in), which you can easily adapt to an old USB case, although you’ll have to cut some holes for the DIP switches and the Micro-SD card. In the crowd-funding campaign, the original sketch was for a 3 DIP switch version but the final Elite has four, which I found nice. I plugged it in to an old computer, after some consideration about which firmware it could ship with and what it could do to my laptop, and sure enough a red LED appeared. And that was it. Nothing else.

After playing around with the switches and exercising some RTFM, I realised that the firmware it ships with is probably some sort of Q.C. test for the dips, which makes the Malduino output the numbers 1 to 4 (actually simulating a keypress 1 to 4), depending on which switches are ON. So far so good, it works and I’ve seen worse PCB boards than this one. The board has holes for six pins, which I did not trace to the micro-controller and I don’t know what they are for.

The Setup

Setting up the Malduino requires that you have the Arduino IDE installed and up to date. You’ll need to open up the board manager and install the Sparkfun boards since the Elite is programmed as a ‘Sparkfun Pro Micro’ running at 3.3 V and 8 MHz. Then you need to go the Malduino Script Converter website which serves several purposes:

  • It allows to convert scripts between the Lite and Elite versions
  • It allows you to choose your keyboard layout language
  • It auto generates the Arduino project for you to import to the IDE

For the Elite version, just create a simple or even empty script to download the project, since when in ‘normal’ operation you will just flash the Malduino once and then use the Micro-SD card to store new scripts.

A note on flashing, if you are using a Debian-based distribution you might come across some problems like I did and not be able to flash the device. Like the user on this most useful post, my modem-manager was trying to talk with the Malduino after every reset and confused AVRDUDE to death. The solution is to add udev rules to “/etc/udev/rules.d/77-mm-usb-device-blacklist-local.rules”, kudos to [socrim]:

ACTION!="add|change", GOTO="mm_usb_device_blacklist_local_end"
SUBSYSTEM!="usb", GOTO="mm_usb_device_blacklist_local_end"
ENV{DEVTYPE}!="usb_device", GOTO="mm_usb_device_blacklist_local_end"

ATTRS{idVendor}=="1b4f" ATTRS{idProduct}=="9204", ENV{ID_MM_DEVICE_IGNORE}="1"
ATTRS{idVendor}=="1b4f" ATTRS{idProduct}=="9203", ENV{ID_MM_DEVICE_IGNORE}="1"

LABEL="mm_usb_device_blacklist_local_end"

The Software

Since I’m running Linux, a quick shortcut to run a command is the ALT-F2 combination. So I script that into a file and save it to 1111.txt. The Elite searches the Micro-SD card for a file corresponding to the current dip switch state. Lets say the dip switch 2 and 4 are ON. In this case, the software tries to find the file named 0101.txt and parse its contents (as in dip switch order 1,2,3,4 and not the binary representation of the number 2 and 4) . When it finishes, the red LED starts flashing quickly. My simple script was:

DELAY 2000
ALT F2
DELAY 1000
STRING xterm
DELAY 1000
ENTER
DELAY 1000
STRING id
DELAY 1000
ENTER

But it was not working. Almost all commands worked but the ALT-F2 combo was not functioning properly. Close, but no cigar. No ALT-F2, no run command window. I’ve already lazy-browsed the source code a bit because I really didn’t have a lot of time on my hands but I needed to figure this out. The offending code was this:

else if(equals(s,e,"F1",<strong>3</strong>)) Keyboard.press(KEY_F1);</pre>

else if(equals(s,e,"F2",<strong>3</strong>)) Keyboard.press(KEY_F2);
...
else if(equals(s,e,"F10",3)) Keyboard.press(KEY_F10);
else if(equals(s,e,"F11",3)) Keyboard.press(KEY_F11);

A custom equals function was receiving size 3 for the strings of the Function keys, like “F2”. It was ok for “F10”, “F11” and “F12”, but failed for the rest of the keys. Changing 3 to 2 did the trick, but my Portuguese keyboard layout started to interfere with other test scripts. So I changed the code to include PT and UK layouts, changing them in a #define at compile time.

It would be cool if it was possible to access the SD card from the computer as a regular USB volume. I don’t know exactly how feasible that is, but it does not come with the current firmware. I still wanted to be able to output the content of an arbitrary file on the SD card to the screen, so I added another script function called ECHOFILEHEX that outputs the content of a file in the SD card as escape characters. For example, if the file a.txt contains “AAA”, the script command ECHOFILEHEX a.txt would output “\x41\x41\x41”. This can be useful to echo binary files into printf or echo -e, in Linux hosts at least.

Meanwhile, I had some trouble reading the original code. You know, we all have different programming styles. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to write some messed-up spaghetti code. I sometimes browse old projects looking for some libs or classes I coded and wonder ‘who the heck wrote this steaming pile of code?’ Me, it was me. Anyway, I started to change a bit here and there and ended up changing pretty much the entire code. That’s the beauty and the curse of open-source. If you’re curious you can check it out here.

Conclusion

All in all, and despite some bumps, I’m quite pleased with Malduino. It is what I expected: an open platform for BadUSB attacks that’s in its infancy. It’s awesome that we can all tinker with it, modify it, make it better or just make it suit our needs. I hope a real community can start so we can see its full potential emerge. My short list includes simulating other USB devices, better SD card management, and expanding the device via the unused pins. What would you add?

It’s a long way to go and a lot can go wrong, so good luck with the project [Seytonic]!


Filed under: Featured, reviews, security hacks

Prextron CHAIN BLOCKS - Arduino Nano controlled Ultrasonic sensor that switches a motor wirelessly using 433MHz RF modules and a relay board.


 

Description

In this tutorial, I will be evaluating Prextron CHAIN blocks – a new system that allows you to connect your sensors and actuators to an Arduino NANO using clever 3D-printed prototyping boards that can be stacked sideways. This very modular system makes it easy to connect, disconnect and replace project components, and eliminate the “rats nest of wires” common to many advanced Arduino projects. CHAIN BLOCKS are open, which means that you can incorporate any of your sensors or actuators to these prototyping boards, and you can decide which specific pin on Arduino you plan to use. The CHAIN BLOCK connections prevent or reduce common connection mistakes, which make them ideal for class-room projects and learning activities.

I am going to set up a project to put these CHAIN BLOCKs to the test:
When I place my hand in-front of an Ultrasonic sensor, the Arduino will transmit a signal wirelessly to another Arduino, and consequently turn on a motor.


 

Parts Required:

You need the following Prextron Chain Blocks


Please note: You may need to solder the module wires to the CHAIN BLOCK protoboard.


 
 

Arduino Libraries and IDE

This project does not use any libraries. However, you will need to upload Arduino code to the Arduino. For this you will need the Arduino IDE which can be obtained from the official Arduino website:
https://www.arduino.cc/en/main/software


 
 

ARDUINO CODE: RF Transmitter


 
 

ARDUINO CODE: RF Receiver


 
 

Fritzing diagrams for Transmitter


 


 


 


 

 

Fritzing diagrams for Receiver


 


 


 


 

Concluding comments

The purpose of this project was to evaluate Prextron CHAIN BLOCKs and put them to the test. Here is what I thought of CHAIN BLOCKS at the time of evaluation. Some of my points mentioned below may no longer apply to the current product. It may have evolved / improved since then. So please take that into consideration


 

What I liked about Chain Blocks

  • The design is simple, the product is simple.
  • Once the Chain Blocks were all assembled, they were very easy to connect to each other.
  • I can really see the benefit of Chain Blocks in a teaching environment, because it simplifies the connection process, and reduces connection mixups.
  • It was good to see that the blocks come in different colours, which means that you can set up different colour schemes for different types of modules.
  • You can incorporate pretty much any sensor or Actuator into the Chain block which is very appealing.
  • You also have the flexibility of choosing which pins you plan to use on the Arduino.
  • Projects look a lot neater, because you no longer have the rats nest of wires.
  • The Blocks lock into each other which means that they are much easier to transport/carry.


 

What I did not like about Chain Blocks

  • In most cases, the Chain Block protoboard lanes were not numbered, which increased the chances of making mistakes when soldering
  • The need to solder modules to the protoboard, may be a discouragement for some people.
  • I would have liked a choice of different size Chain blocks. Some of the sensors did not fit nicely into the Square blocks.
  • Prextron really need to work on their website if they plan to get serious with this product: Webpage has incomplete functionality or irrelevant links etc etc.


 
 
 

Thank you very much to Prextron for providing the CHAIN BLOCKS used in this tutorial, and allowing me to try out their product. If you are interested in trying them yourself, then make sure to visit them at:


 
 
 
 
 
If you like this page, please do me a favour and show your appreciation :

 
Visit my ArduinoBasics Google + page.
Follow me on Twitter by looking for ScottC @ArduinoBasics.
I can also be found on Pinterest and Instagram.
Have a look at my videos on my YouTube channel.

             

Prextron CHAIN BLOCKS - Arduino Nano controlled Ultrasonic sensor that switches a motor wirelessly using 433MHz RF modules and a relay board.


 

Description

In this tutorial, I will be evaluating Prextron CHAIN blocks – a new system that allows you to connect your sensors and actuators to an Arduino NANO using clever 3D-printed prototyping boards that can be stacked sideways. This very modular system makes it easy to connect, disconnect and replace project components, and eliminate the “rats nest of wires” common to many advanced Arduino projects. CHAIN BLOCKS are open, which means that you can incorporate any of your sensors or actuators to these prototyping boards, and you can decide which specific pin on Arduino you plan to use. The CHAIN BLOCK connections prevent or reduce common connection mistakes, which make them ideal for class-room projects and learning activities.

I am going to set up a project to put these CHAIN BLOCKs to the test:
When I place my hand in-front of an Ultrasonic sensor, the Arduino will transmit a signal wirelessly to another Arduino, and consequently turn on a motor.


 

Parts Required:

You need the following Prextron Chain Blocks


Please note: You may need to solder the module wires to the CHAIN BLOCK protoboard.


 
 

Arduino Libraries and IDE

This project does not use any libraries. However, you will need to upload Arduino code to the Arduino. For this you will need the Arduino IDE which can be obtained from the official Arduino website:
https://www.arduino.cc/en/main/software


 
 

ARDUINO CODE: RF Transmitter


 
 

ARDUINO CODE: RF Receiver


 
 

Fritzing diagrams for Transmitter


 


 


 


 

 

Fritzing diagrams for Receiver


 


 


 


 

Concluding comments

The purpose of this project was to evaluate Prextron CHAIN BLOCKs and put them to the test. Here is what I thought of CHAIN BLOCKS at the time of evaluation. Some of my points mentioned below may no longer apply to the current product. It may have evolved / improved since then. So please take that into consideration


 

What I liked about Chain Blocks

  • The design is simple, the product is simple.
  • Once the Chain Blocks were all assembled, they were very easy to connect to each other.
  • I can really see the benefit of Chain Blocks in a teaching environment, because it simplifies the connection process, and reduces connection mixups.
  • It was good to see that the blocks come in different colours, which means that you can set up different colour schemes for different types of modules.
  • You can incorporate pretty much any sensor or Actuator into the Chain block which is very appealing.
  • You also have the flexibility of choosing which pins you plan to use on the Arduino.
  • Projects look a lot neater, because you no longer have the rats nest of wires.
  • The Blocks lock into each other which means that they are much easier to transport/carry.


 

What I did not like about Chain Blocks

  • In most cases, the Chain Block protoboard lanes were not numbered, which increased the chances of making mistakes when soldering
  • The need to solder modules to the protoboard, may be a discouragement for some people.
  • I would have liked a choice of different size Chain blocks. Some of the sensors did not fit nicely into the Square blocks.
  • Prextron really need to work on their website if they plan to get serious with this product: Webpage has incomplete functionality or irrelevant links etc etc.


 
 
 

Thank you very much to Prextron for providing the CHAIN BLOCKS used in this tutorial, and allowing me to try out their product. If you are interested in trying them yourself, then make sure to visit them at:


 
 
 
 
 
If you like this page, please do me a favour and show your appreciation :

 
Visit my ArduinoBasics Google + page.
Follow me on Twitter by looking for ScottC @ArduinoBasics.
I can also be found on Pinterest and Instagram.
Have a look at my videos on my YouTube channel.

             

EspoTek Labrador Review

Have you heard about the EspoTek Labrador ? 

A tiny board which can turn your computer into an
- Oscilloscope
- Waveform generator
- Logic analyser
- Multimeter
- and Power supply.

Great for makers or hobbyists with limited bench space or limited funds. Perfect for students and anyone starting out in the field of electronics

As you will see in the video below, I take a prototype of the EspoTek Labrador for a spin, and try out all of the functions that this board can provide.

I use an Arduino UNO, a couple of 433MHz RF modules, some LEDs and a speaker to see just how useful this board will be for my hobby requirements.

I have been wanting an Oscilloscope for quite some time, and while this board does not necessarily win against a benchtop oscilloscope on a side-by-side comparison of specifications, it does make up for it somewhat in terms of price, space (or footprint), usability, and wide range of functionality. But does it actually function as an oscilliscope? Is it useful ? Will it do what I need it to do?  Or will I still need to buy that expensive oscilloscope that I have been saving up for?

Have a look at my review below, and tell me what you think.






Let me know your thoughts in the comments below:
ScottC 29 Oct 02:58

EspoTek Labrador Review

Have you heard about the EspoTek Labrador ? 

A tiny board which can turn your computer into an
- Oscilloscope
- Waveform generator
- Logic analyser
- Multimeter
- and Power supply.

Great for makers or hobbyists with limited bench space or limited funds. Perfect for students and anyone starting out in the field of electronics

As you will see in the video below, I take a prototype of the EspoTek Labrador for a spin, and try out all of the functions that this board can provide.

I use an Arduino UNO, a couple of 433MHz RF modules, some LEDs and a speaker to see just how useful this board will be for my hobby requirements.

I have been wanting an Oscilloscope for quite some time, and while this board does not necessarily win against a benchtop oscilloscope on a side-by-side comparison of specifications, it does make up for it somewhat in terms of price, space (or footprint), usability, and wide range of functionality. But does it actually function as an oscilliscope? Is it useful ? Will it do what I need it to do?  Or will I still need to buy that expensive oscilloscope that I have been saving up for?

Have a look at my review below, and tell me what you think.






Let me know your thoughts in the comments below:
ScottC 29 Oct 02:58

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example