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Primers and Prototypes

I’ve been spending most of the last week reaquainting myself with all the knowledge I’ve lost on electronic circuits since college. I ordered a copy of “Practical Electronics for Inventors” using an Amazon gift certificate I got for my birthday, and I have found it to be a very good reference. You can get as down in the weeds as you want to – there is plenty of theory buried within these pages, but as the author states in his introduction, if that isn’t your thing than just skim past all the equations and theory diagrams until you get to something you feel is useful. It covers the full spectrum. It has great reference pages at the front and back for component labeling and common circuits, and I have not been at all disappointed. A very good $30 textbook – better than the $100+ one I bought at my university 13+ years ago (and quickly resold once the class was over).

I also have spent some time learning the PICAXE VSM software, for which I emphatically echo Arnie Wierenga’s comments – completely worth the price tag. Between the circuit simulator and my textbook cited above, I have remembered probably most of the useful knowledge I got out of my university education. It took about 4 hours or so before I really started to understand how to build circuits and simulate them, but I feel confident in my skills now. I have assembled a rough outline for the grant / pump skid circuit, and it correctly models what I wish the control panel and PICAXE microcontroller to do. I’ll have to post my design and chip BASIC files once I’ve got everything worked out the way I want it.

Most of my remaining questions are around PCB production and how to break the functionality apart (or keep it together, as the case may be). Do I try to produce a separate board for the control panel and tie it back to the main board with a ribbon cable and some header connectors? Do I just do 2 conductor jumper wires up to the control panel components and leave the main circuits back on the base board? I like the idea of a separate control panel board because if I hose something on the main board (or need to rework it), there is the potential of reusing the same control panel board.

I am also not sure how I am going to tie the sensors into the board thru the case – I’ve been toying with the idea of using regular old RJ11 jacks and phone cord since they are cheap, abundant, and easy to replace. That could also necessitate the need for a seperate miniboard for the sensor jack tie-ins. Again, I don’t know where I am going with all this.

Another load of electronic components (including a SSR for the transfer pump) is on its way from Allied Electronics. I’ll probably mock up a prototype box using plexiglass or something once I get everything together. Mounting the VAA505 power supply will be problematic without actually etching a board and soldering it in, but I’ll figure something out – even if it is the ugly alligator clip solution I am currently using. 

I did brew beer this weekend – a brown porter. It was very uneventful, and the 10 gallons is actually done fermenting – it finished in around 48 hours. I am very pleased and can’t wait to keg it.

Categories: Tech geeks
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