The little gerber viewer that could!

Of course I’m talking about gerbv!  For those of you who don’t know, gerbv is a free Gerber or RS-274X viewer that comes from the gEDA Project.  It’s free, it’s open source, it’s cross platform… (quick link to windows version download here) and that’s awesome.

So, why do you care?  Well, if you are building your own circuits and want to get a PCB made then usually the format you’ll need to export your design into is a gerber.  The reason you should grab gerbv is to double check for errors.  When you design a PCB in your favorite circuit layout tool, whether it be Eagle, Altium, or my favorite DipTrace, you should double check for errors.

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Roly Kit – Amazing Retro Storage for Makers

The Roly Kit storage box. I vaguely remember seeing these things from my childhood, sometime in the 80′s, but that was a long time ago.  I think I had totally abolished these things from memory…until a year or two ago, when one of our members brought one to hack night filled with lots and lots of electronic components.  We’ve all used the tiny drawers for parts storage, like the ones on our workbenches.  I even have a more modular one that has a handle to carry it around, but nothing compares to the storage capacity of the Roly Kit.

After admiring the sleek rolling storage for so long, I finally decided that I had to have one.  Doing a little research, it appears these things were invented sometime in the 70s, and made by a company in the Netherlands.  Sadly, the only reliable place I’ve seen them for sale is eBay, and occasionally a thrift shop.   They appear to come in a few colors and 2 different sizes (‘big’ and ‘medium’). If you’re a maker and need a nice travel friendly holder for all your resistors / caps / knobs / switches / 555 timers, I recommend you snag one up too.

Crimping ain’t easy!

When I build personal projects, I like things to be modular. You never know when the LCD you just wired up could be grabbed and used in another project… and wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to desolder/cut wires just to re-position something tightly stuffed inside of your project enclosure? This probably explains why I end up making so many wiring harnesses and consequently crimping wires.

In the past, I used a pair of pliers and a soldering iron to connect these crimps to whatever wire I happened to be using at the time. This worked, but it was tedious and the outcome could have looked better. Why wouldn’t I use a pair of crimp pliers might you ask? Well, when I searched for crimp tools in the past, such as the ones recommended for JST XH crimps, they were priced close to $500! Absurd!

Thankfully, a few weeks ago I stumbled across and purchased a pair of less expensive Universal Crimp Pliers sold by I Heart Engineering

I think some of the folks at the hacker space still think I am a crazy for raving about these things as much as I have, but I just can’t get over how having the right tool for the job simplifies things. They let me crimp things easier (no more cursing as the crimp flies across the room), make stronger crimps (I hadn’t realized how critical it was to crimp the wire jacket until using these), and crimp way faster than before.

In particular, they are a HUGE help when you have to crimp lots of things at once. In my case, I needed them to assemble cables I include in SX2 Mini mill tachometer kits I put together. I was rather concerned about the time it would take me to crimp all of those connectors, but with the right tool it turned out to be a breeze.


Thanks to Bill from I Heart Engineering, we now have a pair of these crimp pliers for the space too! If you ever need to use them, swing on by!






Hacking a SX2 Mini mill

SX2/CN2 tachometer kit in action
SX2/CN2 tachometer kit in action

I picked up a SX2 Mini mill recently via Little Machine Shop (They call it the HiTorque Mini Mill 3900). When I received it, I noticed there was a port for a digital tachometer readout on the side of it. I though this might be useful, but felt 125$+ for it was a little excessive for what it was. Atop of this, they were out of stock.

I ended up reverse engineering the protocol, building some less expensive kits, and documented how exactly I figured out the protocol. Along the way, I also discovered how to make the mill run in reverse!

If you wondered how a reverse-engineering problem like this is approached or what tools are used, this could be an interesting read:

Cheap logic analyzer (ELSA100)

I recently purchased this logic analyzer.  It’s a clone of the Saleae logic analyzer.  Available for 50$ here with 10 mini grabbers.  It appears to perform exactly like the Saleae except its noticeably larger.  It even uses Saleae’s software.  It does ship from over seas, and might take a little while but it did arrive, and had free shipping.

The cable that ships with it doesn’t have wires broken out for the power supply pins, but it appears there are 2 extra pins, 3.3v and 5v power sources.  I’ll have to see about adding 2 more pins to the connector to utilize them.  The factory cable has 8 logic wires, and 2 grounds, but the connector has lots of extra spots for wires, extra grounds and those power supply pins.

Anyway, you can’t beat the price.  Oh it’s also supported by Sigrok, an open source logic analyzer that is multi platform.