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Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?

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Trephine
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
Trephine   4/28/2011 5:06:03 PM
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DIY, Bigger than a breadboard! It's good to hear about MakerFaire here, and good to find your column here, Bill. I can give you my perspective from the local hackerspace here in Washington, DC. HacDC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on DIY electronics, crafts, and technology-enabled arts. We're all about bringing in newcomers to technology and offer free courses for this purpose. I came to HacDC with some prior experience in industrial R&D, and the education I got on the job in the RF development environment was seriously eye-opening, compared to what I was able to do as a hobbyist, on a hobbyist's budget. QFNs with a hot plate, 0201 passives that are so light they seem to adhere to air... What I learned in this work was the crucial value of a good bench microscope, preferably on a good boom, with good illumination. The industrial experience gave me access to equipment and techniques that I would not have dared to try on my own personal budget. Once I saw what was possible in this way, DIY was a lot easier. Daring to build is in part a matter of how much money you have to run your risk with. Mentorship, training, and the example of others building their own equipment in _QEX_ and _QST_ articles, e.g., are the other way to get over that hump. With knowledge to gauge your risk, DIY electronics is doable. What's important is some kind of community within which to learn. Clubs like HacDC are one part of this puzzle. Sustained manufacturing and R&D on our continent is another. And while it’s not as fun as seeing a design come to life when you click the switch, I think a side benefit to DIY technology, not directly tangible, is a permeation of understanding through the society, a kind of spreading of the seed corn. I think it may be as worthwhile as it is fun. Phil Stewart

mtripoli
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
mtripoli   10/6/2010 7:32:01 PM
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I'm one of the DIY'ers that built my own "toaster-oven" reflow units. I bought the toaster oven at Walmart for about $40.00 (I’m a suck up-I'm using names). Controller from Omega (CN7500-$97.00). This has a heater and fan output control. The heater is wired through a solid state relay and the fan through the controller itself. Cut a big hole in the side of the oven and attach a short piece of round duct with the fan on the outside end (all metal fan from McMaster). The thermocouple (McMaster) is routed through a hole in the top. The Omega controller has a bunch of functions but so far I've found a simple "on-ramp-hold-ramp-hold-off" is just fine. For circuit board layout software I still use Orcad Layout 386+ for DOS running on a quad core in WinXP. Go ahead, laugh (understand, the most I've done is 8 layer boards where I haven't needed to do any kind of inductance compensation or such). Solderpaste? I have a friend that has a small laser made for cutting thin plastic. I send him the solderpaste layer as a DXF and he cuts a piece of transparency film made for laser printers. It is the perfect thickness for even the smallest pads (good for 10's of prototypes). Tape the film to the board and desk using blue painters tape. Small blob of solderpaste on the film and use a credit card to spread it around. I place the components under a stereo microscope (have some fine tip tweezers and a nice Scotch ready). The solderpaste will "slump" some but I haven't found it to be a problem. If you've "followed all the rules"-soldermask with no voids between passives - don't worry about the pads on IC's, the solderpaste will form small balls that squeeze out from between pads). In the oven for 3 minutes-done! I've seen similar ovens for as much as $3000.00 (this just under $200 with all new parts). The latest board I did was a Class D amp using a TI TAS5630PHD (64 pin QFP) and 0402 passives that worked perfectly on first power-up. I've done 5x5x.8mm QFN-32 (leadless parts) as well.

johnrtd
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
johnrtd   10/2/2010 11:39:39 AM
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We deliver audio kits since 1982. Nowadays some of our offers show a combination of (pre-mounted) SMD and classic components. The hobbyist now may use the newest technology but still has to handle his soldering iron (and a voltmeter for instance). In doing so he will achieve all the advantages of current techniques and the newest insights in audio. No problem there.

BrianDonegan
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
BrianDonegan   9/29/2010 6:07:22 PM
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There is a thriving community of DIY enthusiasts in the Audio space. Check out diyaudio.com. While it seems like many of the "best" transistors for audio are disappearing, there is also a full embrace of new technologies, everything from SMD packages to programming and integrating uControllers into custom projects. For many, many of the new integrated packages just enable them to bypass the drudgery and create something they really want, not what they are told they should want.

Dave.Dykstra
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
Dave.Dykstra   9/25/2010 12:15:07 AM
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Bill, you are correct about that. The QEX article was the for the 1.3GHz network analyzer mentioned by Jim. Sorry for the confusion.

WKetel
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
WKetel   9/22/2010 2:45:42 PM
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Articles in QST over the past few years have, unfortunately, not been at the same technical level as previous years, with a few exceptions, of course. I think that follows some trend and is aligned with some marketing research at QST. There is now a challenge with experimenting and building prototypes, which is that for any project using a processor you need an additional skill set, if not to create the code, then at least to use the equipment to load code from some source into the chosen processor. This is a challenge, since no amount of electronic circuit insight and expertise will qualify somebody to produce a program for a processor. There is of course, the exception of that graphical programming language being aggressively marketed, but that product is certainly not in most hobbyists price range, and it does take a bit of skill to use it. So we do still have ways to make prototypes and projects using the more standard ICs and discrete electronics, and not writing programs and loading code, but I see far more of 6the publications aimed at the hobby market choosing to use a processor kit (that they sell or market)instead of discrete electronics.

BicycleBill
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
BicycleBill   9/20/2010 12:16:49 PM
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Dave, an't speak to your QEX article, the article I am referring to was in QST, April 2002, "A Lightning Detector for the Shack:, I keep photocopies handy to use as a project for any aspiring engineer student I meet in High School and even JHS--it's easy to build, and dramatic!

Dave.Dykstra
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
Dave.Dykstra   9/20/2010 3:28:28 AM
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The article was actually in QEX (Ham radio communications experimenters magazine) in January 2009 and was authored by Thomas Baier DG8SAQ. Again, that is subscription only and articles are not available for download so you need to find a Ham who has it or a library with it. Rolling your own PCBs is fraught with possible problems but is still doable. Finding ICs that will do what you want and are experimenter usable can be tougher, but sometimes using last generation or even earlier ICs is still a good workable solution for experimenting.

BicycleBill
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
BicycleBill   9/20/2010 2:23:47 AM
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Thanks for the mention of QST (official publication of ham-radio ARRL). This excellent publication often has good, workable basic projects using transistors, and which do something useful and which anyone can build, yet which are not "trivial"--just the right sweet spot of do-ability and sophistication. A few years ago they had a lightning detector: 4 transistors, neon bulb, some passives, nothing critical, easily debuggable with a meter--yet it was a really solid project. One thing: QST is subscription-only, so find a ham who gets it or go to the library

Salio
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re: Do-it-yourself: is this the best of times, the worst of times--or maybe both?
Salio   9/20/2010 1:22:36 AM
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I think DYI projects are fun and one can learn a lot from them. Having said that DYI projects involving IC designs can be very challenging. DYI projects which are mostly software based are relatively easy to do from a cost point of view. @Rich: I don't agree with your statement that a lot of EEs started out as hobbyists.

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