RF, time-nuttery, test equipment

Rather than just complaining about Linux stuff on my blog, I’m going to start posting more frequently about what I’ve been obsessing over in my spare time:

  • RF and microwave stuff (10 GHz ham transverter).
  • time-nuts stuff (GPSDOs, crystal oscillators, ridiculous time interval measurement).
  • A bad habit of collecting old test equipment
  • .

Some impressions of Ubuntu 13.10 “Saucy Salamander”

Since I have plenty of RAM in my Mac Mini and a fast connection, I decided to torrent the ISO and install it in VirtualBox.

Unlike current versions of Debian, fresh out of the “box” it doesn’t grok resizes of the VirtualBox display.

The magic search thing you get by hitting the Ubuntu logo responds rather slowly. Even after I turned on “3D acceleration” in VirtualBox. At least it helpfully suggests things that I can buy. It appears to be doing network IO with each keystroke (to offer incremental suggestions), but unlike Google search (on their web page), it seems to be slowing down the UI with each keystroke rather than doing that work completely asynchronously.

More playing around with the UI suggests that VirtualBox’s 3D acceleration isn’t enough and it’s just doomed to be slow in VirtualBox.

I continue to be unimpressed with recent Ubuntu changes.

Debian Wheezy (7.1) on Lenovo Ideapad S12

Here’s what I needed to do to get it to work. First, you need proprietary drivers for the 802.11bgn chipset (BCM4312 with LP-PHY). It should be possible to provide this non-free firmware at install time, but I never got that to work so instead I just installed with the wired ethernet and installed this firmware later on the running system by adding the “non-free” and “contrib” repositories to /etc/apt/sources.list and doing:

apt-get update
apt-get install firmware-b43-lpphy-installer

This may require a reboot to take effect, there’s probably another way, but it’s more effort.

You’ll probably also want the proprietary NVidia display driver if you have the NVidia ION chipset variant of the S12. Just follow the instructions at NvidiaGraphicsDrivers for installing the current version using DKMS. Reboot again, or you could reboot once for all three of these changes.

Suspend seems to immediately wakeup due to USB interrupts. Putting the following in /etc/rc.local (and rebooting or executing the script as root) seems to fix that:

for i in 0 1 2 3 ; do
echo USB$i >/proc/acpi/wakeup

Those are the USB controllers, it still wakes up fine from hitting a keypress.

You may also want to add some of the recommended tweaks from powertop. A way to get them in scriptable form is to run it as powertop --html=<filename> option and cut end paste some of that into rc.local. I got things down from about 17 watts to 12 watts on battery.

I haven’t tried to mess with the built-in camera yet.

Bad UI: Error messages you cannot copy and paste

If I get some kind of mysterious error, don’t make me manually retype into my web browser to search. That’s completely ridiculous.

An example:

Admittedly, there’s a link that searches help for the error, but it doesn’t find anything relevant, so I have to go search the web anyway. I’ve seen examples of this from Apple as well on occasion, but I don’t have any handy right now.

By the way, that error is explained by Microsoft here. You’d think with 32 bit error codes like that it would be easy to link to http://somehost.microsoft.com/[error code] which would automatically go to the explanation. Or maybe put explanation strings in the application’s message catalogs or whatever. This isn’t 1980.

First time PC board design success (LED cabinet / closet lighting)

Though I’ve designed a PC board for my own production using a toner-transfer etching resist and no holes drilled, I haven’t actually designed a board before for actual commercial production. It’s rather tedious getting everything right the first time, but I managed to make it work.

I was recently playing around with some of the smaller Cree LEDs which are designed for lighting use (in this case, the CLA1B-MKW-XD0F0E83 [pdf] — these are about 12 lumens) and I happened upon an idea for a simple but very useful project. It occurred to me that I would like a little bit of light in the cabinets and closet in our hallway at home without having to turn on an adjacent room light or the crappy wall-mounted light at night. I prototyped a neat little 1.5 volt driver using a Diodes Inc. (formerly Zetex) ZXSC380 [pdf] — this is a better alternative to that “joule thief” circuit that has been going around for some time — and decided that it was sufficient illumination for the purpose. It should provide about 20 hours of operation off a AAA alkaline battery too.

So, after hoping to be able to do something more clever with a low quiescent current and low-voltage hall effect sensor, I gave up and used a SPDT reed switch (the most expensive component in the whole thing at $2.89 each!) so that when a magnet is close to the board, which is mounted just inside of the top of the door opening, it turns off. I expect won’t have to change the battery for years. The magnet is a 1/4″ cylindrical magnet glued in a 1/4″ hole in the door with Gorilla Glue.

I was happy with the price and quality of PC boards from OSH Park, but I certainly wish there was a faster turnaround way to get PC boards made that was also cheap. I did the design with Eagle CAD, which I’d used before a few years ago — but not where I cared about all the layers (copper, drills, holes, solder mask, etc.) I could have gotten the silk screening done better for some of the parts I created outlines for, but it works.

Closet light in operation

Yes, it’s slightly crooked, and it only seems dim with the iPhone flash on.

I’m damned impressed with some of the LED lighting products out there — the better CRI warm white parts are indistinguishable from incandescent bulbs to me. The next thing I’m working on is a lightweight clip-on LED book light for reading in the dark without being too bright. Things are slightly complicated in that I intend to make it USB rechargable, and to make things mechanically neat, I plan to use the Atmel QTouch stuff for the on/off. This will also allow some tricky user-configurable brightness without a tiny trimmer pot, since I know my wife will want hers brighter than I’ll want mine.