Member #134773

Member Since: May 19, 2010

Country: United States

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I started playing with electronics in the mid-1960s, and with computers shortly after Neil Armstrong took “one small step”. I got a degree in CS in 1980, and started working then as an engineer.

  • I can remember when Digi-Key was a supplier strictly to hobbyists. Back in the 70s, things like physical dimensions of capacitors were almost impossible for the average hobbyist to get, but Digi-Key carried only top quality parts from reputable companies (such as Panasonic), and included dimensions (and other key info) in their catalogs. They eventually grew to where they are today, the “go-to” company for (professional) electronics houses, especially when you “only” need 10,000 of a part and need it by the end of the week. I’ve even heard Arrow reps (Arrow is one of the “big names” in “big quantity”, e.g., a million parts a month) say “Digi-Key or Mouser can probably get you that quantity faster than we can”.

    Fortunately for the hobbyist, Digi-Key has never forgotten the “little guy”. Sure, they can, and often do, give a big price break for big quantities (I’ve found times when it’s cheaper to buy 10 than to buy 2 of a particular component, or buy 100 than it is to buy 3), but they’re still willing to handle the $20 dollar order cheerfully and give it the same attention that they give the $20,000 order. The cause/effect direction is unclear, but they are also one of the “go-to” places for the Engineer who’s trying to get parts to make a couple of prototypes for what, 6 months from now, is going to be the “thousand units a week” gadget.

    Anyway, I hope that SparkFun can follow the same trajectory as Digi-Key did several decades ago – just never forget your roots!

  • FWIW, this is the approach for most of Adafruit’s boards: they include a strip of headers, and if you want to use them, you solder them in. (Lots of tutorials available on that.)

    As for the off-grid pins, my approach is to take some of the M/M flexible jumper wires (for instance, PRT-11026) and cut them into two parts. After stripping the cut end, it can be soldered into the SPI or Analog on the ProMini (or other board) to get those pins out to a breadboard for use while I’m still at that stage.

    For more permanent installations, I like not having pins soldered in, as, for instance, I can use a “pogo-pin” arrangement for the programming pins on the Pro Mini, and not have to worry about space in the final enclosure for the pins (let alone access to them).

    On the other hand, I can see the point in having at least some products available with pins pre-installed. For the raw beginner, soldering can be a barrier to entry into the hobby: you do have to invest a few dollars into a soldering iron, and some form of tip cleaner (sponge or wound brass/bronze), a roll of solder, and, highly recommended some good de-soldering braid (even the best of us messes up occasionally), not to mention the skill. I can still remember some of the frustration when I was learning to solder about 50 years ago. (Once in a while, it’s still a frustrating process, though I am generally proficient even doing most SMDs, given a decent microscope.)

  • Drat. If SXSW were two weeks later, I could almost certainly get my girlfriend to agree to adjusting our trip to stop at it – especially given how much she enjoyed the one Maker Faire (Cape Cod, 2014) I’ve managed to get her to. But Mar. 11-13 just ain’t gonna happen.

  • I probably should clarify a little. My notebook is a loose-leaf (my preference is for “D” ring) binder. I also like ¼" graph paper. CVS Pharmacy (of all places!) has pads of the ¼" graph paper that are drilled for a 3-ring binder. I also have a bunch of “dividers”, and have sections on most projects, with things like schematics, “cheat sheets” (with frequently used but hard to remember details), and such.

    I also have a smaller notebook that I take to club meetings, and record details that I think are important – attendance counts, change of meeting location, important motions that pass (e.g., allocating money), and such. Not really “minutes”, though. (I keep separate pages for each group, and for each committee when I’m on a committee.) Don’t forget to put down the date! (Oh, and when I carpool, I note who drove each time.) BTW, the notebook for clubs has a place where I can keep a pencil – an important detail!

  • One of my professors (nearly 40 years ago) used to say that he documented code “for the complete idiot”, because usually the “complete idiot” was himself having to go back six months later trying to figure out what he did and why. He also said that 10 lines of comments for each line of actual code were not excessive. (I usually managed to hit around 8 lines of comments per line of code in the work I turned into him.)

    On a tangent, I’ve learned to NEVER, EVER use single letter variable names, except on the chalk board. Typing in “x_axis_value” takes a little longer than “x”, or “for (idx=3; idx<12; idx++)” does take more typing than “for (i=3; i< 12; i++)”, but it makes it a LOT easier to do searches for “idx” than just “i” which would catch every “print”, “in”, or other “things” (like “this” in a comment).

    There’s a lot more to good documentation than just comments in the code, but if you have to maintain the code, good comments can sure help!

  • Wow! Thanks for sharing, Reagan!

    I hadn’t heard about CREATE. I’ll have to get a day pass for the Light Rail and go down and check it out, though I suspect it’s going to be several weeks before I have time for that.

    On the topic of “project notebooks”, what I find works for me is having one notebook that’s sort of a journal, though I head every entry by which “project” it’s about. I have several projects going on, and try to move at least one of them along as frequently as possible. (Unfortunately I have a lot of other things going on, and so can’t get time every day.) Were it not for the notebook, I would quickly lose track of where each one is, but am able to complete one from time to time. I also use the notebook to keep track of such things as when I last backed up my computer.

    Anyway, you are an inspiration to a 60-something engineer!

  • As a semi-retired [mostly] software guy, I hope you’ll have great documentation, too! (I’ve always been amazed at the incredibly poor quality of documentation on expensive software. I remember 25 or so years ago when I got ahold of the manual for MS-DOS. Clearly, they’d spent more on designing the box the thing came in than they spent on writing the manual. I’d have a lot more [OK, “any” is a lot more than “zero”] respect for M$ had they spent about twice as much on the manual as they actually did. Fortunately, given time, OSS often gets, if not “great”, at least “reasonable” documentation.)

  • I’m glad that you’re trying to put Sparkle out as open source. A lot of managers would look at this and think that it could be a “profit center”, and it could dramatically change the face of the company (to where the current business is dramatically overshadowed by the software). The down-side to the OSS approach, though, is that will scare off so many [mis]managers (who believe the FUD about OSS) from trying it, even though (to quote Bill Gates [yes, that BG]) “why would someone pay for something when they can get something better for free?”

    Anyway, when you get to where you really want to acid test Sparkle, have another sale like the Arduino Day sale in 2014! (Hint, hint…)

  • And given the point in the monologue, it suggested that you were hoping the two of you would “magnetically snap together”. Hilarious!

  • Lots of potential puns, but none of them really count. :-)

No public wish lists :(