Saturday, October 23, 2021

Surface mount on home drawn circuit board

I've been slow to adopt surface mount components for home construction but watching Paul, VK3HN's, technique has convinced me it's the way to go. The way he lays components on a board, draws the tracks with a pen, then simply solders components on to the surface seems particularly elegant.

As a test I've built a simple emitter follower audio stage with a 3904 small signal NPN transistor. The transistor is tiny but able to be soldered. I've used a normal Sharpie pen in the past but recently picked up some Staedtler permanent markers which are often recommended. Here's the resist and you can see the transistor top right:


I etch with ferric chloride in a small plastic container.


This small amount has done a few boards already. It would last longer if I coloured in more of the copper area. Paul tells me that warming the solution will keep it going even longer if desired.

This board wasn't great but worked well enough to solder components in place.


A wonderful benefit of surface mount components is that you can buy these books containing all common values for not much money. I bought the large 1206 sized components to make it easier for me to work with them. It's great to have plenty of every value resistor and capacitor at hand in a compact book. The result, on my first attempt, is a bit rough:


Working with surface mount is not hard if you have good light, a magnified headset, tweezers, and something to hold down the part while you solder the first connection to a component.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

On ABC RN's Download This Show

This week I'm a guest on Marc Fennell's ABC RN "Download This Show".

"We’ll soon be walking around with them and flashing them to wine, dine and travel – but how easy will it be to spot a legitimate vaccine passport compared to a fake one? We discuss what could have prevented a security flaw and what’s being done about fake vaccine passports.  

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia will be using an artificial intelligence tool to stem abusive messages being sent on electronic payments.

Plus, Facebook and Instagram introduce new features in an effort to protect young users from harmful content.

And would you wear a smart headband that claims to make you calmer?"

Marc was in the studio, I'm at home using an Audio-Technica USB microphone and I think it sounds as good as the studio.

uSDX tiny multi-band transceiver

The uSDX is not a great receiver or transmitter but it is usable and amazingly small. I bought mine through AliExpress. "uSDR uSDX 10/15/17/20/30/40/60/80m 8 Band SDR All Mode HF SSB QRP Transceiver Compatible with uSDX QCX-SSB".

Here's a recording of how a fairly week signal on 40m sounds:

The first unit I bought arrived with a broken screen. The AliExpress vendor provided free shipping for the return and refunded my payment.

I previously built the same circuit but this fully built version is more compact.

Manuel, DL2MAN who is the original designer of the uSDX sandwich contacted me with some comments about this (and similar) clone of his design. He has a video commentary and makes the following points:

  • His design is used but there is no credit to him at all
  • The license on the design was for non-commercial use only
  • He was never asked about a commercial license
  • The selling price is way above the actual cost (he thinks it would cost about US$40-$50) particularly as they are not supporting the developer
  • No effort was made with documentation, they've added no value for their margin
  • There are some changes to the schematic:
    • Output transistors have been changed but other parts of the circuit have not been adjusted
    • Harmonic suppression will be worse than the original design (and way below legal requirements)
    • Firmware upgrading is not easy as it was in the original design
    • The battery charging circuit is noisy
  • A physical design problem can short circuit the battery in the version with a battery
DL2MAN has now changed the license to Creative Commons but, of course, to comply manufacturers need to mention the source and re-publish their version under the same license.

So, all the materials are now available for legal manufacturing.

Manuel is clearly angry about the way he has been treated by the Chinese manufacturers who have stolen his work, without attribution and are profiting from it. There is an update of the design and Manuel feels it could be made for about $50 soon.

There's a video here that compares Manuel's latest version with one of the Chinese clones.

Friday, October 01, 2021

It's a good idea to update the Arduino IDE

There's some tribal knowledge around about Arduino IDE (and library) versions. I've heard from people that a certain version is the one that works and they don't want to update. Partly this is because they are using an old library and new code "breaks" the build.

Recently, I was talking with Paul, VK3HN, and he mentioned that he had a sketch that, when built for an Uno, was short of RAM.

Paul sent me the code, I compiled it, and didn't get the warning.

This was puzzling of course. I figured it could be one of two things:

  • One of the libraries had been improved to use less RAM
  • The gcc compiler bundled in the IDE had improved.
Here's the compile output from Paul:


Here's my output:


The figure is dynamic memory use:

Paul: 1539
Mine: 1132

Quite a big difference if you only have 2048 bytes of RAM.

It turned out that I was on a slightly later version of the IDE 1.8.15 (not even the latest) and Paul was on 1.8.12.

I tried the beta of Arduino IDE 2 and got the same memory use so I think the version of gcc bundled in it is the same. 

gcc has lots of options and, while I understand the Arduino IDE wants to keep thinks simple, it would be good if the compile options were exposed.

The lesson out of this is that the tools do get better and it's a good idea to upgrade.