Tindie Fundraiser – Gauge Stepper Breakout

blackPointerI put my second product up on tindie.com as a fundraiser.  It’s a breakout board for one can use to make custom Analog style gauges.  The actual drive is a stepper motor – the same model used in GM cars and trucks.    The breakout uses an arduino library written by Guy Carpenter, who has a great blog over at http://guy.carpenter.id.au/gaugette/


So far things have been going great, I was able to make my funding goal in less than 24 hours!  Needless to say I’m very happy.  I’m sure the US Postal Service is going to love me too when I start shipping out the gauges ;-).

Here’s a link to the fundraiser : http://tindie.com/shops/TheRengineer/analog-gauge-stepper-breakout-board/

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Pie Ala mode? Pi on the Road!

Time flies!  Things have been busy for me lately.

Once the Sharp lcd board was launched, I had a great time at Open Hardware Summit and Makerfaire.  A bunch of folks got to see the LCD and library.

The last couple of weeks have been occupied with my “day job”.  In fact, today finds me posting from a hotel room.

Knowing I’m going to be cooped up in a hotel room with nothing to do for a few nights always makes for a hard time packing.  Which projects to bring?

I was driving for this trip, so I didn’t have to worry about TSA questions about dev boards and jumper wires in my luggage.
So what have I been up to?
Some work on the LCD documentation and library.   There are a ton of undocumented features in there that aren’t covered in the demos  – like support for multiple variable spaced fonts.  Tonight I finally began toying with the Raspberry pi i got a few weeks ago.
I have it set up with a motorola Atrix webtop “laptop” computer.  I was finally able to sit down and figure out the wireless settings tonight.   I have never been so happy to see a hotel wifi login page.
The Raspberry Pi is an exciting platform – especially with the upcoming camera board.  I’m excited at the prospect of getting some machine vision software running.   Hopefully we’ll see some vision enabled robots in the next few months.

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First Product for sale! Sharp Memory LCD Breakout

Sharp Memory Lcd Breakout and Library

Hello?  Anyone home?  Echoooooo?
It’s been pretty quiet around here lately in Rengineer land.   I’ve been letting this site sit for too long.  However, this is going to be a big week.- Makerfaire is coming to New York!  The Open hardware summit is here as well.
Today is a little different though – today I’m bringing out a a project I’ve been working on for the last few months – my first open hardware product, a Sharp Memory LCD breakout, and an Arduino Library to run it.

A wise man once said “Bringing a product to market is like having kids and kicking them out of the house all at once”
I’ve definitely found this to be true!
I’ll try to document the process over the next few weeks – but right now, I’m proud to show off the fruits of my labors.
Sharp makes a number of interesting LCD modules.  This particular one is part of the “Memory LCD” series.  What makes it special is that it doesn’t use polarizers.  That causes it to have a really interesting “reflective on cloudy” effect – unlike any LCD I’ve ever seen before.
So – Check out the LCD module.  I have two videos of it up on youtube:




If you like it, the breakout (with LCD) is available for purchase on tindie:


As always – this is an open source release – everything is on my github here:



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Finally getting my ham ticket

I’ve finally gotten my Amateur Radio license!

A bit of background is in order here.     As a teen, I spent many a Sunday in the parking lot of New York Institute of Technology, the local tech school.   Long Island Mobile Amateur Radio Club (LIMARC)  would have their hamfests there.   What started as buying a few things here and there turned into an all out addiction.   This was the late 80’s and early 90’s –  pre-internet, pre-ebay.   These hamfests were my chance to stock up on projects for the next 3 to 6 months.  Eventually a few friends and I started getting tables at the ‘fest.   I’d sell some of the things I had worked through and figured out, and use the money to buy new projects.   I still wish that I’d held on to a few of those old apple computers – especially a Commodore Kim-1, which now probably worth a lot more than the $30 I sold it for back then.

Fast forward to today – College set in, and then a career.   The hamfest memories of my youth are now just that – memories.   I hear there are still great electronics fleamarkets and hamfest around in other parts of the country.  Things here are much smaller.

Once in a while I would think back and wish I’d gotten my ham ticket – but never long enough to take the test and get it.    Enter the Tymkrs, one of which (Atdiy) has been studying to get her tech ticket for the last few months.

I was curious to see how much studying it would really take me to get the ticket – Most of this stuff is electronics and radio theory, so it should be a breeze.    I took two practice tests, and did ok on them.   The local radio club site said the next local test was on Saturday.  I dutifully headed down and handed over my $15 testing fee.    The Hams there were very serious about the test.   I was the only one test taker that day, and the tables were set up with me facing a group of older men.  I felt more like I was about to defend my thesis than take a multiple choice test!   My girlfriend even had to wait outside during the test itself.

I’m happy to say that I passed, and am now a “Technician” level ham.    I was going to take the general test as well, but the older hams seemed to be in a hurry to get on with their Saturday activities.

I don’t have my call sign yet – still waiting for the FCC ULS to show me what my call will be.



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I’m the guest on this weeks episode (episode six for those of you reading in the future) of the ZombieTech podcast. Recording the podcast was a lot of fun, and I had some great hosts. I’m currently posting this from the road as a day-job business trip has me out of state. You can check out the episode here: http://tymkrs.com/ZombieTech/podcastgen/?p=home

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Open Hardware Summit

I’m heading off to the Open Hardware Summit in Queens, NY tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to meeting some of the folks I’ve been conversing with on the irc, twitter and various other internet sources in real life.

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Of Quadcopters, Drones, and FAA Rules

I missed getting a blog entry up last week due to the fact that I was a. at the AUVSI Symposium in Washington DC.  AUVSI stands for Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. For the uninitiated, AUVSI covers ground, sea, underwater, and air based unmanned “drones”.  They may be remotely controlled, Autonomous, or a combination of the two.

As a veteran of numerous trade shows, I always start a show with mixed feelings. On one hand I’m excited to see the new technology. On the other hand I’m always trying to determine what is

fact and what is marketing hype.  Anyone who has worked a trade show as an engineer can tell stories about how they showed products that were not quite ready for prime time.

I spent a lot of time in the conference Portion of AUVSI.  Lots of ½ hour meetings about various issues in the industry.  What I found in those meetings was an interesting case of Arrested (or postponed) development. It also happens to be one that I have a bit of a history with.

(Call in the Wayback machine!)

Way back in 2004 digital cameras were finally becoming light and cheap enough to fly on model aircraft.  Add to this the perfect storm of electric models coming of age (due to battery and motor advances) and light, cheap video down links.  Myself and numerous others saw the opportunity for a new business: aerial photography from radio controlled model planes.
I was able to quickly get a system together, and over time refined it to something that could produce professional results.

It wasn’t long before I had a few jobs with local construction companies. I would take Progress Photos of large construction sites every two weeks. I started getting more and more calls,. and things got to the point where I had to decide if I wanted to continue in engineering, or jump over to this new career as a professional aerial photographer. Just as I was about to jump, a low rumble came out of Washington. The FAA had decided that radio controlled aircraft, when operated on a for pay basis. were in fact drones.  This placed RC planes under the regulation for unmanned aerial vehicle systems. At the time there was no true regulation in place.   The FAA made it clear that rules were coming. In my case this made the decision easy.  I stuck with my 9-5 rather than risk having the proverbial rug pulled out from under me. It turned out to be a good decision, as RC Planes (again only when operated for business) fell under these some stiff regulations.   This more or less killed the RC aerial photography industry as a legal venture.

 Stepping out of the wayback machine, and back to late 2011, quite a bit has changed.   UAVs both small and large have helped our nation tremendously in the defense sector.   They’ve also done quite a bit of work in search and rescue.    However, the FAA still hasn’t even released a timeline for incorporating UAVs into the national airspace.   There has been quite a bit of talk, but very little movement.

The military is a special case here.   They have their own restricted airspace over bases to perform testing and training.   Public entities such as NASA also have some special treatment.   The private sector however, is stuck.    Even the quadcopters that many of us build and fly for fun would be illegal to fly as a service.

Now don’t get me wrong.   Airspace integration is a very difficult prospect.   The last thing anyone wants is to have a mid air collision between a UAV and a passenger plane.

So while I am as frustrated as the rest of the crowd, I don’t have a definite answer.

What do you think?

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Back to the blog!

When I started this blog I had a basic idea in my head.  I wanted a somewhat anonymous and “semi professional” setup – where I would concentrate on issues and leave out personal preferences.

Of course, as happens with many of my projects, life got in the way.  This time in the form of a major crunch at my main job, followed by a move from an apartment to a house.   That’s not to say that I didn’t try to post.  I sat down at least a dozen times – but the words didn’t flow.  What I’ve found is that the whole “keep it non personal” didn’t work for me in this particular blog.   Don’t get me wrong – I can write articles, test procedures, and reports with the best of them.    What I couldn’t do is a blog entry I was happy with in that format.

So, I’m going to try again, this time without the fourth wall I was dancing with before.

I should start with a bio –
My name is Adam, and I’m an electrical engineer.
(I feel like I should say I am a friend of Bill Hewlett or something here)
I’m currently 35, and have been in the field in a professional sense college.   In a hobby sense, I’ve been designing circuits since I could read (and have the dog eared first edition  of Forrest M. Mim’s Getting started in electronics to prove it)
Over the years I’ve worked for large and small corporations.   I’m currently at a medium sized aerospace company.  Professionally, my focus has been embedded systems – both hardware and software.  This has ranged from 8 pin PIC based systems all the way up through flight qualified VME systems running on more than 40 separate PowerPC processors.
In a hobby sense my interests are many and varied.   Robotics has always been a love of mine – specifically autonomous robotics and vision systems.  I also spend quite a bit if time with Radio Controlled planes, helicopters, quadcopters, and cars (the last two of which roll back into robotics).   Photography is another big hobby. .
In my non-electronics life, I live in New York with my girlfriend Dory, two Cats, and two birds.  Dory has been nominated for sainthood due to her putting up with my projects cluttering up the small apartment we lived in until earlier this year.  You can find me on twitter as @ajfabio, and on various IRC channels as VayaConQueso.
So that’s it for a quick bio – expect to see more posts from me in the near future.

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The Job post…

So where exactly does a person who wants to “do it all” get a job?   That’s a loaded question.  There are many different correct answers.  Different strokes for different folks and all that.

My dream, like many rengineers, is to own my own business.    I’m not there yet, but I’m working toward it on a number of fronts.
Until then, I’m stuck “working for the man.”

I’ve had a few jobs over my career – but I’ve definitely not seen it all.  My experience may differ from others, so feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.   My focus has been embedded systems.  That choice in itself has steered me in a number of directions I would not have expected when I was fresh out of college.

When it comes to jobs, there seem to be two basic choices out there – big companies and small ones.    By small, I mean the tiny shops – the garage operations, the start-ups.    I’ve found that your best chance of working on everything – from requirements through hardware and software design, to the end of implementation and release – is to work at a small company.
I went to work at a small company straight out of college.  It was a start-up in the barcode industry. In my humble opinion, I learned more there in a few short years than I would have learned in a decade at a big company.

Small companies have their own risks though – start-ups fail, companies get bought out, new management comes in, you name it.   In my case, the company did well.   Ultimately, the president decided to take the company out of state, and re-launched with a new staff.

Since then I’ve worked for a few large companies, mainly in the defense industry.   What I’ve found is that larger companies have much more defined and rigid job structures.   What’s worse is that politics come in.   The software managers don’t want software budget used for hardware, and vice versa.    Throw systems engineers into the equation and things get even more sticky.

All hope is not lost though.   There are ways to be a renaissance engineer in a big company. The first thing is find out what the culture of the company is.   Culture really defines how accepting a large company will be to rengineers.  Don’t be afraid to ask – right in the interview phase.    In my own case, my current employer made it clear up front, I would be working the software side of things.   Why did I take it?  At the time I needed a job, and other life pressures were in play (you know, a house, bills, etc).

But even at my job – I’ve found a way to do both hardware and software.   It’s in the small jobs – the small budget hardware and software projects.    Not much money is available, and not much time.  if you are lucky enough to be under a manager who is open to it, you can find yourself playing the role of the rengineer.

ozzie voices are
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MakerGear Mendel

I just received my new www.makergear.com RepRap Mendel.   As you can imagine I’m excited.   I’m going to be doing a build log of the Mendel here on the blog.   Stay tuned!

Posted in Mendel | 5 Comments