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Arduino Leonardo versus Uno – What’s New

Arduino Leonardo

Arduino’s latest incarnation – the . It is the first Arduino to use Atmel’s ATmegaXU4 series chip with built-in USB. This change is big and it has big benefits.

Early Arduinos required a serial port connection to your computer for programming. As the platform matured, the board acquired a USB to serial conversion chip. The latest version of the classic Arduino board – the Uno – still uses this method, although with the Uno a switch was made from an expensive FTDI conversion chip to using an ATmegaXU2 series microcontroller chip. This chip is a cousin to the U4 series, but lacks analog input pins.

Using a USB conversion chip was only a slight improvement over using a serial connection. It removed the requirement for a special conversion cable, but added significant cost to each and every board. With the Uno, the switch to using the ATmeag8U2 lowered the cost by a few dollars, but it seems kind of silly to use an entire microcontroller just to perform USB to serial conversion for another microcontroller of roughly the same capability.

This ironic situation is finally resolved with the introduction of the Leonardo. Not only does this AVR chip offer built-in … Read the rest

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Make Your Own Solder Flux

I found this great video on making your own flux for soldering. Flux is a must have product when doing any electronics work, especially for surface mount parts. It helps to clean dirty parts and improves the surface tension of the molten solder so it stays on the pads instead of running between them (called bridging).

One would think that making your own solder flux wouldn’t be as good as the real thing. That may be true in some cases, but for most this at-home method is not only inexpensive but allows you to vary the thickness of the flux. Commercial flux comes in viscosities ranging from a watery liquid to a waxy paste. To understand how to create your own viscosity, let’s look at the recipe:

  • Isopropyl alcohol – the kind in your medicine cabinet
  • Pine Rosin – thickened sap from trees. Used to make violin bow hairs grab the strings and make them sing. Search for violin rosin on e-bay, and buy for a few bucks.
  • Glycerin – just a drop or two per batch (2-3%). Buy in drugstores.

To make a batch, simply crush the rosin into a powder with a hammer (put into an envelope first … Read the rest

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The End of College Education?

Recently, I wrote about how anyone can use Khan Academy to obtain a top class math education from the basics to advanced calculus. The handwriting is now on the wall for over-priced college education. Just as the Internet has been a great equalizer for independent journalism, it is now poised to do the same for education – even college education. Sebastian Thrun, a prominent Standford professor is aiming to do just that. This Forbes article describes his vision for a college degree available for only $100 that anyone anywhere in the world can obtain.

His education initiative Udacity is now online. You can see the course offerings here. While it doesn’t offer many courses yet, his vision is bold, and he has the credentials to make it happen. While online learning has been with us for awhile, a major stumbling block has been certification. That obstacle will soon be overcome, and Udacity may just pave the way.

The other major innovation by Udacity is integrating the course material into real world problems and their solutions. Instead of long, isolated, boring lectures, you actually work on a project as part of the course, learning what you need to know along … Read the rest

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Tools for Math and Math Education

Whether you are a student, have school age children, or have used math at all in your life, you have no doubt struggled at some point with mathematics. Math is one of those things that can be difficult no matter how good you are at it. I know – I am very good in math but I still struggle.

I wanted to share two excellent resources that make that struggle much, much easier. So much easier that, for many of us, math may cease to be a struggle.

Math Software

When it comes to solving and visualizing mathematical problems, good math solving software can make a difficult task significantly easier. Unfortunately, the mainstream offerings such as Maple, Matlab, and Mathematica are way too expensive for casual use. Now there is an alternative called Sage.

Sage is open source, and you can both download it (and run it on just about any OS) or run it from a browser. It has a simple interface, and is fast and powerful. This video gives a history of the project and at about 38:45, you can see a short demo.

With Sage, you don’t have to toil over an algebra or … Read the rest

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Guide to Arduino and AVR Communications


If you spend any time playing with Arduinos, ATtinys or looking at AVR spec sheets, you soon encounter a bewildering smörgåsbord of acronyms for various communication protocols. With examples such as I2C, LIN, SPI, TWI, USI, etc., it can get pretty confusing. If you don’t believe me, just take a look communications column for Digikey’s listing for the ATmega series chips. Confused yet?

What do these terms mean? How do you choose the chip that meets your needs? How do you make use of these protocols?  In this article, I take the mystery out of all these acronyms, and provide a brief overview of what they mean and how you use them in your projects. We’ll examine each of the protocols, including some of the terms that are not exactly protocols, and survey some of the software libraries available to make communications easier.

Communication Protocols


The SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) is the protocol used by the ICSP (in-circuit serial programming) facility transmitted over the ubiquitous 6-pin (2×3 pin) header used to program AVR chips. It is useful not only for programming AVR chips, but also for other types of communications between ICs. From Wikipedia:Movie Carol (2015)

SPI interface diagram


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Testing for Food Allergies

Like many Americans, I have some food allergies. Despite suffering from them for years I was not even aware of them until recently. My only symptoms were a partially stuffed nose, which is why I never paid it much notice. Added to that was the fact that I usually consumed all of the four foods I was allergic to on a daily basis. This practice ensured the symptoms were constant, and I had mistakenly assumed they were due to airborne allergens.

Food Allergy Testing

While I had identified the foods to which I was susceptible by myself, I was looking into ordering a blood test to add to my sparse knowledge. The most popular type of food allergy testing is based on measuring for a marker called IgG. It is a fairly mainstream test, and multitudes rely on it to determine their food allergies and adjust their diet according to its results. Tragically, research has shown that this test has little basis for validity, and there is considerable clinical evidence that it not only is ineffective, but even plain wrong. This means that foods that show a response on the test may actually be foods a person can tolerate well.… Read the rest

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