element14 + Build Updates

So it appears that I am this months Member of the Month over at element14. Quite a surprise, no acceptance speech or anything though. Instead you get this old photo

Coming soon is the UK Maker Faire 2013 in Newcastle, I’ll be there, will you?


Build Updates!

The pep build is slowly coming on. Currently onto smoothing out the shell and getting the ears cut and built to go on. Need to find a suitable way to construct the lenses for the eyes.

New project is to build a guitar amp, and as a side project an Atari Punk. This started off well, until discovering I had forgotten to order a few heatsinks for the PSU. Fingers may have been slightly cooked.

Review: Fluke 233

Late post is late.


Many thanks to e-14 for this one. Some time in summer, I won a lovely bit of kit. At the time I was cursing, the day I found out I was only round the corner from the offices but couldn’t make it to drool in person. However, following a short wait (and a looong drive home from Leeds), I got home to find a box. What was inside it you ask? Simple, a Fluke 233 and some e-14 goodies.


The Fluke 233 is a remote display Digital Multi Meter with an impressive feature list including:

  • Measure up to 1000 V ac and dc
  • Measure up to 10 A (20 A for 30 seconds)
  • 10,000 μF capacitance range
  • Frequency to 50 kHz


Whats impressive about this, aside from the features, is the display. For those who have parts of systems scattered about, or in awkward places, or just want to monitor something from the other side of the room (We’ve all been there right?), the display module detaches. This allows you to connect up the meter as usual, but walk away (Up to 10 meters) with the display. To make it easier the display itself is magnetic allowing you to easily attach it to a nearby surface such as a control box you are working on. The main unit however is not so lucky. With the basic kit your only option is to carefully place it somewhere stable. Or, take advantage of one of the accessory kits. One such item is the ToolPak. This simple strap clips onto the back of your Fluke meter and adds the magnetic feature seen in the disaply module. Should you not have a magnetic surface available, you can always clip it onto another appropriate surface. Should you want to refrain from hanging about, there is the stand option, seen on many meters. Simply flip it out from the back of the meter to prop it up while you work.

Aside from the amazing remote display, the meter itself is pretty standard. Auto ranging, Min/Max/Avg options, temperature and frequency features, back light, true-rms etc. A good quality meter, great for any engineer working in potentially hazardous or awkward spaces.


While working with it, I haven’t had any major problems (The minor ones all being down to a lack of tea), the battery life is ok. It might struggle with heavy use, however it does not need anything special, just AA alkaline cells. The wireless function for the display turns off when connected to the main unit (and resorts to an IR connection, no dirty pins to deal with) in order to conserve power. Over all it is a very nice unit, well worth the money, if a little on the expensive side. Not one for beginners thats for sure!


My only complaints with it are with the kit contents. While it is not expected that the meter comes with a case, I do feel it could have came with one, or at least some nice bubblewrap to package it. For those considering getting one, or who have one I do recommend getting a case. You can get one from Fluke directly or locate one for yourself. Just don’t forget it must have room for all your accessories! My other complaint is with the manual. It is on CD. While not a problem for most users, some platforms may have issues opening the included files. Should you need the manual, you can soon download a copy from the Fluke website.


My rating? 9.9/10

Marks are lost for the manual not being as accessible as it could be.


Worth buying? Yes, if you are going to need the remote display, go for it, if not, stick with one of the other models and save the money from the batteries.

Geekness & Howduino

So today (Tuesday 13th) is Embrace Your Geekness Day. A day to be proud (As usual I hope) of your geekness, and maybe even a day to be proud of fellow geeks. Personally, I’m proud to be a geek and I’m happy to say I’m proud of my fellow geeks, such as the wonderful Kitty, the corntastic Josie and of course the guys like Collin Mel and everyone else (Lets not go into the list of those we are not proud of, we all know who they are).

So my question is, what did you do to embrace your geekness and that of others?

In other news, HowduinoNCL is coming up, anyone going? Have anything special planned? My plan is still somewhat…vague, but I’m open to other ideas if someone wants help!

(continue reading…)


Over the past year I have been working on a project using purely Arduinos. Now that this project is nearly over, I have decided to take the optional step of taking it further.

The plan so far is to still use the Arduino environment, but load the code onto a custom PCB. This should allow the software to remain the same while allowing a massively reduced version of the hardware (The current modules can be compared to bricks). To do this there are two options, an FTDI cable/chip or to program the uC directly. While FTDI chips are cool and everything, I decided against it with the option to include on at a later stage in the process. This left the option of programming the uC directly.

To do this rather than go for a nice AVR programmer such as those produced by Atmel, I went for the altogether more fun option and went with Adafruit Industries’ USBtinyISP. As usual, Oomlout showed off and got it packed and shipped allowing it to arrive 2 days later, and in their usual way, Adafruit did the same with an excellent kit.

To the kit! So what do you need to make it so simple? Aside from the usual tools (This was one of the few times I wish I had an actual PCB vice and not just some helping hands and a spare finger), I’d highly recommend having some good music on and some milkshake. Why? Why not? Everyone should have a decent beverage while working. Based on the weather and the general mood of the day, milkshake seemed appropriate. Assuming you follow the instructions and read them (Yeah, I didn’t do that the first time on one or two sections…), the kit is easy to build with everything explained where required. If there was one thing I’d recommend, it would be to have some bluetak (Or equivalent) handy for when you solder the headers.

What happens when its done? COmpleted USBtinyISPWell you get something that looks like this. Your next step as you may have guessed is to test it and use it. If you plan on using it with your Arduino to add a bootloader, you may become slightly confused by how to connect it. The best guide to tell you which way to plug it in can be found on the Adafruit forum here. It provides pictures and descriptions just to make the whole process easier.

If you are starting out with this side of working with microprocessors, or even if you are experienced, you will no doubt find this fun and educational. Congratulations to Adafruit for producing such a useful tool and well done to Oomlout for working so well to distribute it over here!

Arduino Information

Once upon a time there was a page of links relating to Arduino and general electronics, since then it has evolved into something slightly more. There is no space for general links, information about tools, tutorials, projects and maybe even some resources for the above!

If there is something you think should be added or changed, say so here!

Arduino Guide


Use Arduino or another platform and want to make your own PCBs? Even if you don’t and want to use create your own for another purpose?

The first step is to design the board. One popular way for hobbyists is to use a program known as EAGLE. The free version provides the ability to design simple boards to a specification suitable for professional production. At a glance the program can be a bit confusing for new users, however help is at hand.

element14 and TinkerLondon have got together to help out. On Saturday 15th May 2010, the two companies are working together to put on a workshop in London. For £10, you get a full day introduction to the tool.

More information can be found at

A plan?


So a while back, there was a mention of plans for something aimed at making the life of developers/tinkerers/others easier. Particularly those who use who use I2C. Now as we all know I2C can operate with just one device on the bus, which is all fairly simple, but what if you need more? You need to build a bus!

Yes this can be done easily on breadboard, and is just as simple on perf board (strip board or whatever you care to call it), what about when you want to implement it? Or you just want something slightly better for say… teaching? Well one option is to go and make your own PCBs, or another is to find someone who already has. I2C PCB

Over the past few months in a few moments of spare time (and alot of waiting), I have produced a quick solution that may be of interest. This simple PCB provides a data line, clock line, power lines and a spare line for you to use with whatever I2C devices you wish. Including is space for the pull up resistors where needed and a power LED (Note: this LED should have a resistor on board, but was missed off this version). This version, almost as demonstrated by the errors in it and missing features is just a proof of concept.

However, if there is enough interest, there is a chance a production run could be done for a suitable price. If you are interested, leave a comment!


Got questions? Just ask! This is just the start and suggestions are always welcome.

  • Is the source available?

    Currently the source for this is not available as I do not wish to put something out there with such errors or a lack of documentation. It may however become available later.

  • Is a sample available to test?

    Maybe…If you are really interested, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. The board may be free, the postage may require a minor contribution depending on location and how nice you are


Got questions for me about anything (Other than the above!)? Ask them here or in the comments! The best ones may even get posted.


So in a passing conversation on twitter, the subject of geeky fashion came up. For any one that knows me, you’ll be aware that the closest I get to anything with style is a fancy design on a t-shirt. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t pass up advice from something of an expert. In this case, Carla, and her blog MessyCarla: A Fashion Blog In Size 16

In terms of geeky guys, take a look at This

Don’t forget to check out her competition!

Blogs! Science! Science Blogs!

So after this weekends MakerFaireUK and the associated Virtual Treasure Hunt, a few blogs and sites have shown up that are worthy checking out:

Any other sites you think should be on there? Comment and they may be added!

Highlights of the MakerFaire include: all of it.


So this coming weekend (13/14th March) is MakerFaire UK in Newcastle as part of the Newcastle Science Fest. So who is going? What are you looking forward to the most?

If you are reading this after the event, what did you enjoy the most?

New Stuff!…?

Its taken a while, but I’ve finally got round to designing my first PCB specifically for public consumption.

It is a very simple design, but I’ve not seen anything similar recently. While working with I2C devices I’ve found a need for a simple bus board, specifically for prototyping as some times breadboards just arn’t big enough. For this reason, hopefully rather soon a new board may be available (Maybe even a kit type affair). Leave a comment if you are interested and tell your friends! More details to follow.

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