Microcontroller Shootout – Texas Instruments MSP430

launchpad-mspexp430g2-01Ok guys and girls, time for another development board. Today we’re looking at the Texas Instruments MSP430 Launchpad, or more specifically, the MSP-EXP430G2

We’ve never actually played with one of these before but added it to the list as a suggestion from Alex Bradbury on Twitter. Once the board arrived, we opened up the packaging and were pleasantly surprised. Inside we found of shiny new dev board with an M430G2553 chip installed along with an M430G2452 chip, a 32khz crystal and a set of female headers in case you want to swap the factory installed male headers (or maybe to build your own shield). At first I couldn’t work out the difference between the two chips but going back and reading the quick start guide which was supplied with the board, it turns out that the pre-installed M430G2553 includes a USCI module which is capable of hardware UART.

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Microcontroller Shootout – Matrix ECIO28P

ECIO-page-headerFollowing on with the microcontroller shootout, today we’re going to look at the ECIO28P from Matrix Multimedia. This is a nice little system which is based on a PIC18F2455 but with Matrix’s own bootloader flashed on to it. The system also comes in a 40 pin version which offers more I/O. The first thing to note about this board is it’s size. It measures 5.5cm x 2cm in total and is perfectly sized to fit into most breadboards. Another thing I noticed with this board is the quality of the pin headers. I know it may seem like a minor detail but a lot of other boards come with the cheapest headers available at the time of manufacturing. The pins on the ECIO28P are just that bit nicer. Again, not massively relevant but I did notice it.

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The post man has been!!!

Our friendly postman has just arrived and brought us some new toys. We’ve taken delivery of some little 5v & 3v breadboard power supplies and our new MSP430 development board. We’re still waiting for our Arduino Galileo though.

Here are some pics of our new toys.

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Rant – Tesco customer service

I know this is completely unrelated to anything else on this site but hey.

I’ve just been to my local Tesco supermarket with a friend of mine to pick up some beer. I made the fatal mistake of taking my kids with me instead of leaving them at home unsupervised. I was subsequently refused sale of my alcoholic beverage of choice because my two children are under age!!!!

No S**t Sherlock!!!

I didn’t know Tesco had an anti-family policy. I hope Sainsbury’s don’t because it looks like I’ll be taking my business there in future.


Rant over

Microcontroller Shootout – Parallax Propeller

PropellerThe Parallax Propeller (P8X32A) is a 32bit microcontroller with a difference. It contains 8 cores (called cogs) and can run different routines simultaneously. The propeller doesn’t seem as popular in the UK as it does in the USA but that’s probably because there are only a few places that stock it and it’s more expensive that the Arduino. It’s a shame really because it really is a great little chip. One other thing that may have caused the lack of adoption was the fact that it had to be programmed in a language called SPIN. Over the past couple of years however, Parallax have listened to the masses and have now provided a C programming environment for use with the Propeller.

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Microcontroller Shootout – Part 1

AllOk, here’s the start of something we’ve been planning for a while. We’ve rounded up as many development boards as we can find and we’re going to compare them. This guide won’t be a “which one is better” type of article, more of an introduction to the various platforms available.

At first we’ll just cover the installation of each of the platforms tool chains and how to blink a simple LED, noting how each one differs in ease of use, programming language used, price, etc.

Here is a list of the platforms we have available.

Parallax Propeller
Plain PIC
Plain AVR
Matrix ECIO28P
Raspberry Pi (Not technically a microcontroller but still uses GPIO)
STM32 Discovery
Altera Max II CPLD

If any of you guys would like us to include any other platforms, please feel free to make suggestions and we’ll see if we can get our hands on them.

Stay tuned as the first installment will be posted later today….

Making a pallet coffee table – Part1

PalletIt’s not all electronics here in The Hack Shed. We sometimes dabble with wood too. We normally have a few pallets knocking around and I’ve turned several into simple wooden planters to put in the garden. My latest venture into woodwork is turning a pallet into a coffee table.

This particular project started a couple of months ago and then has been left on the back burner.

I started by cutting pieces of wood to fit into the gaps (hence the two different colours). I chose not to make them an exact fit because I wanted that 1-2mm gap to help with the rustic look. Once the pieces were in place, it all had a good sand down. I haven’t sanded any of the underside yet and there are also a few sharp nail ends sticking through which need to be ground off.

Eventually this thing will have some sturdy legs, probably from an old fence post. For the top, I think I’m going to paint a union flag on and then sand it to make it look worn. Depending on how I feel at the time, I may even just leave the wood grain on top and apply some wax or danish oil because I quite like the contrast between the two different types of wood.

Stay tuned for more updates….

Rant – Netflix on Linux…. or not

Here in The Hack Shed, I run ubuntu linux on my main PC. I tend to run Windows on my work laptop but have always been happy with Ubuntu for my tinkering PC. I do run Windows inside a VM as well but don’t tend to fire it up unless I need to run windows software. Most of my needs up here are for web browsing and playing music.

I recently decided to try Netflix to see what all the fuss is about and have been impressed so far… until just now.

Boot up the PC – Check. Run Chrome – Check. Try to play something on Netflix – FAIL!!!

I’m sure most of you know this already but Netflix use Microsoft’s Silverlight technology to play it’s streamed media. Linux does have a version of Silverlight but it doesn’t support the dreaded DRM.

While there are a couple of convoluted ways of streaming from Netflix on linux, they involve running Wine and other things to trick Netflix into letting the data stream to the linux desktop. I don’t want to do that!

Looks like I’m going to have to play my videos from within a VM.

Rant over

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