It’s been a while

So, yeah. I’ve been meaning to post, like every week since my last post, but couldn’t really get myself to do it. I guess it’s been a bit of a low time for me. The thing about my bipolar mood changes is that I’m the last person to notice them, so I don’t know how long really I’ve been down.

But, on the up, and down, side, I’ve kept up with my latest obsession. Comics! I’ve spent way more than I probably should have. I don’t know how much I’ve actually spent, I haven’t really kept track of it, but I know I bought at least $900 worth of comics since the last post, maybe more. I keep trying to talk myself into stopping, but there’s always “just one more” for me to buy.

I’ve also been trying to keep myself going along with the electronics and game dev interests too, but they feel like so much hard work right now. That’s probably the depression talking. I pretty much just spend my days working, then napping. Comics are something I can do without a ton of extra moving, but the other two take much more brain and energy, and I can’t muster that right now.

I keep hoping to flip the other direction, but I don’t really have control over that. I’ve tried skipping some meds to help alter my brain, but I just end up getting the brain zaps. And while they can be a little fun at first, when I start feeling them in my lips and can’t keep balance I know it’s time to take my meds again.

I’ll try to post again soon. Wish me luck.

My Current Obsession: Game Development

I’m still eagerly awaiting my first comic book shipment. My first comics were added to my shipment today! Still, it’s not going to be shipped until the 14th of April. I have to do something to keep myself from checking atomic empire’s site every 10 minutes.

I’m not sure how my interest got peaked this time. Perhaps I was looking at Steam? Or I was just looking through my installed apps on my Mac for something to distract me and saw the Epic Game launcher which also performs as the Unreal Engine launcher. Whatever the way, I decided to install the latest Unreal Engine (4.26.1) and began looking through the market place for plugins.

In all I have ended up with 27 free plugins that I felt I could use, and another 31 paid plugins on my wishlist that I really feel I could use. I’ve also downloaded and installed Blender and Daz 3D.

Funny side story. I used to work at a software company that developed retail software. As in, Point of Sale (cash register), inventory management and ordering, scheduling, etc. In the same building was a small, one office company called Daz 3D. I had no idea what they did, but when I’d go out to smoke, their lead QA would sometimes be out there too. It took me over a year to ask what they do, and he told me that that they had replaced Poser and now manage sofware for character design and whatnot. He worked on the online warketplace. When I’d played with Poser in the past it seemed like an expensive toy. I asked him what people use it for and his anwer was, “people animate characters for games and CG. But mostly it’s used for porn.”

So, I kinda felt naughty downloading Daz 3D, but I figured I could look into using it for character animation.

Last night I spent about 3 hours trying to remember how to use blender, though I was never really good. I think I may have to start off with goofy looking characters to start with.

Now I just have to get to it. Finally an obsession I don’t need to buy stuff or wait on. If I ever get something done, I’ll post a link on this site.

My Current Obsession: Comic Books

So, I’m not sure what triggered this one. Just, one day last week I started looking for comic book subscriptions. That night I asked my wife if there were any comics she would want. She listed a couple and I was off. I created an account at atomicempire.com and started adding stuff for subscriptions. Before I knew it I had something like 50 comics on my list.

After having a hard time trimming the list down, I asked my wife how much I could spend per month. She said probably no more than 60. So I kept trimming down the list.

I finally got it down to 20. But I keep adding them back. I’m back up to 35. I don’t think I want to miss out on some of these. I also secretly bought all the back issues of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for my wife. Maybe to convince her to let me keep them.

Since then I have ordered some comic storage boxes and comic dividers. Last night I organized all the comics we already have and labeled the dividers and put them into one of the boxes. We have allmost a whole box full already. It’s mostly filled with my Fight Club 2 and Fight Club 3 comics and variant covers, but also includes my wife’s Cable and Ghost Rider comics. I’m pretty sure with 30+ comics coming a month we’ll finish filling up that box and start on the next one in no time.

Next I have to hunt down all the back issues of the comics I subscribed to too late to get issue #1 of. The 2019 run of X-Men, Spawn, Miskatonic, 2021 Suicide Squad, Vampire: The Masquerade, New Mutants, Children of the Atom, and Strange Acedmy. Below is a full list (at time of writing) of the comics I decided to subscribe to:

  • Alien (2021)
  • Aquarius: Book of Mer
  • Black Beacon
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2019)
  • Carnage: Black, White, and Blood
  • Cherry Blackbird
  • Children of the Atom (2020)
  • Cojacaru the Skinner
  • Cult of Dracula
  • Cyberpunk 2077: You have my word
  • Future State Gotham
  • Great Gatsby
  • Harley Quinn (2021)
  • How to Read Comics the Marvel Way
  • John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Hell
  • Joker (2021)
  • Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens
  • Locke and Key / Sandman: Hell and Gone
  • Minky Woodcock: The Girl who Electrified Tesla
  • Miskatonic
  • New Mutants (2019)
  • Nightmare Before Christmas: Mirror Moon
  • Picture of Everything Else
  • Red Room
  • Rise (2020)
  • Shadecraft
  • Shadowman (2020)
  • Silk (2021)
  • Silver Coin
  • Spawn
  • Strange Academy
  • Suicide Squad (2021)
  • Vampire: The Masquerade
  • Way of X
  • Women of Marvel
  • X-Corp
  • X-Men (2019)
  • You Promised Me Darkness

About that video

After hours and hours of learning to use Adobe Premier Pro, more hours and hours of editing frame by frame, and two weeks of not posting because the video wasn’t done, I have decided to skip it. I realized that it’s not going to be something I want posted on youtube, and wasn’t going to be good enough to even show what I did with the grounding. I promised I would included it with my next post, and so I held off writing any new ones. So I’m cancelling the video. Once I get into doing more exciting things, I’ll be more excited to post them.

Anyway, I’m including a list of the parts I used to set my workstation up with a grounded anti-static mat. I’m excited to get working on projects, and not worrying about working on a video that is going to make me depressed anyway will give me a chance to get started on them.

You can click on any of these images to be taken to the amazon link for the product.

First the mat:

I got a mat large enough to cover the desk I linked in the previous post. In fact, I got one too big and had to trim it down. Luckily some sewing scisors cut right through it like butter. The top of the mat is rubber and the bottom has a static dispursing plastic film. It’s quite a bit heavier than I expected.

Grounding snap kit:

To install the grounding kit, you will have to cut a small hole into the mat. I just used the tip of a box cutter. Be careful though, the box cutter is easy to make a cut that is too large for the kit. You only need the tip to go through, just enough to stick the screw through to the other side. Once you have that, you just put the screw into the snap side you need, then the washer, and then press it into the hole and screw on the back side. Tighten up with a screw driver and it’s done. The wired plate snaps right on to the mat now to carry away any of that pesky static.

Plug kit:

There are two screws you need to undo to get the grounding kit wired up to this screw. The first is the outside, to remove the cover, then there is the one on the grounding post (the bottom of the 3 posts in a US plug). Make sure to thread the wire through the housing before mounting it to the ground post. Then you just put everything back together the same way you took it apart. I had to bend the post inside the plug a little to accomodate the grounding wire, just make sure it’s not shorted to any other post. Because the other two posts are not wired internally, they are an open circut and no power flows through the plug, it is simply grounded. Now you have a grounded plug.

Power strip:

I wanted a plug that would attach to the desk so that I could easily plug things in near to where I was working. Nothing special about attaching this. Just opened the jaws all the way and slid it on over the desk frame and top then tighted the jaws. Easy.

And that’s it. My workstation now has a grounded anti-static mat and power strip. It is ready to accept electronics tools. I haven’t been able to afford any yet, but I did hunt down my old soldering iron and heat gun. It’s not really the kind of heat gun you’d use for electronics, but I probably can use it for desoldering surface mount components. Next up I need to get a lap for lighting my work better.

Electronics workbench

The first part of my electronics workbench came about a week ago, but I was waiting for more parts to put it together. But my wife, the supportive person she is, put it together for me while I was streaming on saturday. And like I promised in a previous post, I have a picture of it for you.

A desk in front of window with electronics on top.
Start of my electronics workbench

As you can see, I’ve selected a place in front of a window so that I can open it for venting any fumes. I also have a power outlet nearby. And on top, I have my first little project. We bought a cheep receiver but never purchased any speakers for it. We just couldn’t afford a good set. And while it was sitting there it got bumped around or something. We finally did get some speakers a few weeks ago and the receiver no longer output any signal to the speakers. That was frustrating. But it is kind of exciting for me. I get a bunch of components to harvest. I get some practice desoldering, identifying componets and testing them.

I have my anti-static mat and grounding cable on it’s way. Should be here today. I’m thinking I’ll make a video of setting it up and post it on youtube. I’ll post the video in my next post!

Almost got me

Yesterday I talked about looking at IMUs for a project. I thought I had found the unit I wanted. It is a Bosch BMF055. It includes the Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnometer, and also an SAMD20 32biti Cortex M0+ processor. All for about $10 on digikey. Sounds nice, right? Does all the things I wanted, right? Yep.

But then I was going over the datasheet for like the 5th time, and saw this section:

“8.2 Programming and debug interface
The MCU can be programmed and debugged via Atmel debugging tools using the SWD interface.”

Okay, I thought, what does that involve. So I searched for what that involves. Wll, it looks like it involves aditional hardware. I can save up for something small. It looks like this is the required piece of hardware for programming atmel chips. Fine, I think. I can just add that to my collection of required tools for electronics. I’m sure something in the future would end up needing that and it would be good to already have it.

So, does that require anything else? How does this get the code into the chip? Is it just a loader like the Arduino IDE? I looked into the user guide and found:

“1.3 System Requirements
The Atmel-ICE unit requires that a front-end debugging environment Atmel Studio version 6.2 or later is installed on your computer.”

This means it does require specific software. I spent some time hunting around for Atmel Studio and after some time found out that Atmel is now called Microchip, and Atmel Studio is now Microchip Studio. After a bit of hunting I found that Microchip Studio is free, which is nice. But from reading a bit on the allaboutcircuits forum, it seems that Microchip Studio might be going away, and I’d be forced into purchasing MPLAB, which is also free. But will it support the hardware programmer?

And on and on it goes. Looks like there is some beta support, and what I really should be using is is something like this debugger/programmer. That is definately cheaper, but it may also require this little helper. And it would also require I use MPLAB.

So, instead of having this one chip decide all this difficult dev chain for me, I think it’s probably just going to be easier to find an IMU without the MCU and need for programming. So, now I’m leaning more toward a chip like this one. This chip looks like it’d be much easer to get programmed since it uses I2C and is only programming interrupts.

I’m going to have to remember to always check these things on all the chips I want to select for my project. Good to remember, and I’m glad I found this before I bout 5 or so IMUs.

Another project idea

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d come up with a new project that I want to work on, and that I’d describe it in my next post. Well, here’s the next post.

My wife and I are looking to buy a pistol. Her biggest concern (other than keeping it locked away, mostly from me) is the recoil. My biggest concerns are comfort, ease of maintenance, ability to shoot easily with, and durability. I’ve long liked Glocks. We’ve gone shooting a few times together, a couple times renting guns at the shooting range, a couple times with friends, and once with my dad. On top of that, I grew up shooting, received top accuracy in my hunter saftey course (wayyyyy back in the 90s) and was the youngest competitive shooter in my grandpa’s shooting club. So we have a few points of reference for the guns we’re interested in. My wife like’s 9mm pistols, .22 rifles, and my dad’s .38 special. She also had some fun with his .50 caliber black powder rifle but it was a bit more recoil than she wanted to deal with constantly. She hates 12 gauge shotguns and 30-06 rifles.

But in picking our own, she’s mostly worried about recoil. I’ve looked up charts of the energy that pushes back against the gun, but the way that energy is felt is affected by a number of factors, some of which include the weight of the gun, the amount of powder in the cartridge, the weight of the bullet, the momentum of the moving parts in the gun. Almost every site I’ve looked at though says that recoil is much more subjective than the numbers in a table. I’m sure there are many more that could be added to that list, but she doesn’t care about the math that goes into the recoil energy. Well, actually, that might interest her, she has a BS in applied mathematics and is working on her MS in data science. But as far as buying a gun, she cares about how the recoil feels.

So, I’ve been trying to think of a way to quantize the feel of the recoil of a gun. At first I thought of just putting a pressure sensor somewhere on the backstrap so that when the gun is fired the pressure of the recoil against the hand can be measured. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of what you’re feeling when you shoot. So I thought, what about an accelerometer? That would give me the momentum changes, and that should give you more information about the pressure and movement of the gun. That is, until I realized accelerometers only give measurements about momentum, not angular velocity (rotational energy). But gyroscopes give you angular changes. So I realized I’d have to include both an accelerometer and a gyroscope. There are chips known as IMUs (Inertial Measurement Unit) and they include both, and often also include a magnometer to measure changes in relation to the earth’s magnetosphere. I’m not sure how I’d incorporate the magnometer, but I think I could map the motion of the gun with the other two sensors into some data that she could use to select a gun based on the feel of just one or two.

Then I started thinking of how to connect the sensor to the gun. Maybe an under barel attatchment of some sort would work, but I think the mechanical stress of shooting the gun would require a more permanent attachment, something that the shooting range might not appriciate on their rental guns. The measurements made under the barrel might not accurately represent the feel of the recoil in the user’s hand either. But a glove that is worn on the user’s primary hand might do the trick. I could measure the motion of the user’s hand when shots are fired. This would also allow me to make the sensor portable and quick to ready. I could even embed a pressure sensor or two in the palm for measuring the pressure against the hand.

So there it is, a shooting glove that measures the telemetry of recoil when firing a pistol. There might be something out there like this, but I have no doubt it would be expensive. Doing it myself would cost me a few dollars for the pcb at JLC, about $10 for the IMU at digikey, and a couple of bucks for incidental components, and as little as $3 for a bluetooth module to relay the information back to my phone, or similar for a usb port and data logger. I have two 3D printers and could print out any housings I need after desiging it in FreeCAD. It would take me some time to develop firmware for the device, and then a bit more time to write an application to gather and display the data from the device, whether that be for my iPhone or my computers. I’m fairly comfortable with C, C++, and Ruby, am a little rusty on Java, C#, and Python, Javascript, and could pick up Swift as needed. So all in all, I could probably have this up and running for about $50 and a bunch of hours. Who knows, people might be interested in this thing if there isn’t something around like it. Maybe not.

A low week and a new table

So, I don’t make it a secret that I have bipolar disorder because it shapes a lot of my mood, and so it shapes a lot of how people perceive me. Even though I take meds to balance me (lithium, lamotrigine, and escitalopr├ím) from swinging too far in one direction or the other, it doesn’t always keep it from happening. And so I still have periods of hypomania and depression.

You would think, since it’s my brain and my moods, I would know right off when it changes. But it’s not that easy. The best analogy I can come up quickly is think of the smells in your home. In my home, we cook food with a lot of italian and mexican spices, and we like them to be fresh, so we have Aerogardens all over the house with tomatoes, jalape├▒os, basil, oregano, thyme, chives, parsley, sage, cilantro (which I guess is also known as coriander in other places), and dill growing. We just walk up to them when we’re cooking and grab a sprig or two and then throw it in the pot. We don’t notice the smells unless we’re up close and disturbing the plant (oh man fresh basil smells so good when you brush past it). But when we have visitors they always ask what we’re cooking (“You making spaghetti sauce?”).

That’s how bipolar is for me. Unless something rubs it the wrong way I don’t notice it until someone else points it out to me, usually by asking me what’s wrong with me. Even with my wife helping me to keep track of these things, I’m about 3-5 days behind what the rest of the world already sees. And last week it was depression, a low week. I don’t know when it started or when it ended, but what I’m excited about is that I was able to carry my interest in building my cyberdeck through it, though my excitement for rushing into building the cyberdeck is a bit more subdued because of all the doubt and challenges injected into my plans. It’s going to be a longer process than I imagined before. But that’s okay, it gives me more things to learn and more time for them to stick.

Anyway, the exciting part of the post is that my wife is starting to see that I plan on going through with this hobby, and ordered me the first piece of hardware for my electronics workbench. The workbench! I tried to pick one out that was as big and cheap as I could get. This one is almost 5 feet (55 * 2.54 = 139.7cm) wide, and almost 2 feet (19.7 * 2.54 = 50cm) deep.

You’ll notice those are Amazon affiliate links. I’ve set up an account so that if you are interesting in purchasing any of the bits I’ll be ordering off Amazon you have the option of using one of those links and maybe helping me get some extra $ to further the nerdy works I plan on sharing here. Don’t worry, I won’t be posting anything I didn’t buy first.

Once I get the table put together, I’ll post a picture of it in its new home to show progress of how the electronics workbench is coming together. The next item on the list is an antistatic mat to go over the whole top and a way to ground it to my home grounding. I don’t know how far out that purchase will be, but I’ll be sure to put up a new post when it happens.

And lastly, I’ve come up with a new electronics project I want to work on. I’ll write the details of that one in my next post.

Looks like I have to learn Eagle too

My first version of the cyberdeck will probably be a chunky mess of different parts and boards inside. But I’d like to start making my own boards eventually to make things cleaner and take up less space inside the deck. From the looks of it, this would also allow me to trade my time for the cost of premade boards. But that’s going to be the complicated part.

I’ve been searching for the past few days for a chip that can run lcd or oled displays and the supporting components for powering them. But unsurprisingly not much info is out there for easy finding. I have managed to find a few lcd driver/controller chips on digikey, and they are pretty cheep too! But they don’t support the resolutions I’m looking for.

Then I realized, “the Raspberry Pi 4 can support 4k!” It’s also open source so I can look at the components used. I’m not even a novice at reading datasheets, but it looks to me like the controller for lcd displays is actually managed in the SOC (System On a Chip) where the cpu lives. Of course power to drive the display would come from elsewhere on the board, but the controlling the pixels looks like it’s done on the SOC.

So I started looking for SOCs on Digikey that I could get for cheep (I’m probably going to kill one or two on the way getting the cyberdeck v2 done) and could manage a display at the resolution I want. Turns out that Texas Instruments makes an Arm Cortex-A9. I did actually start by searching for the chip that the Raspberry Pi 4 uses, BCM2711, but all I got back were results for the Raspberry Pi 4. Not helpful. So after going through all the different chips that TI offers, I settled on the AM4379. These chips aren’t as cheep as I was hoping, seeing as a good number of ARM chips of lower speed can cost less than $10. Still, I can set aside about the cost of a grubhub order and get one of these a pay check.

But since this is a ball grid surface mount component, I had to learn how that is attached. Of course the first place I looked was youtube. I found this video, this video, and this video to give me ideas of what I’d be in for. It doesn’t seem too hard, but only by doing it will I know for sure.

Okay, so now I have an idea of the chip and an idea of how to solder it, I need to learn how to design for it. I opened KiCad and started looking for the chip in the list of components. It was not there, so I figured it may be too new for the KiCad library. I looked up on digikey how to get their library and downloaded the git repo (git comes installed on Macs, and I think most versions of Linux. Installing it on Windows isn’t difficult either) and imported the component library and footprints into my project. When I searched for the chip it still wasn’t there. What the hell?

I started looking around the digikey page to see if there was some kind of individual download for the library for just this one component and I did find a page that allowed me to download the compent for my library but before registering and downloading that I had already begun looking into the differences between KiCad and Eagle, which is another pcb design software that I’ve seen mentioned a lot while doing my research. I’d avoided it because it’s not completely free. While this is only one source, it does mention that KiCad does not support designing for BGA (ball grid array) chips, but Eagle does. I’ll have to look around a bit more; I don’t like going off the word of one source. I’m also certain that there is a plugin somewhere that adds BGA design to KiCad. But it’s worth taking a look at Eagle because of it’s integrated support for BGA design and routing.

When I searched for “Eagle pcb design” and found the link for Autodesk, I found that you can only get Eagle bundled with another tool called Fusion360. I then went to look at the pricing because I hate time limited, feature limited, or ad serving “free” trials. When I saw the price I almost Noped the hell out right there. Autodesk software has always been expensive. That’s why anyone I knew that learned 3DStudio Max in the 90s did it on a cracked version. But Adobe software used to be crazy expensive too, and they’ve dropped the sub for every one of their products to about $50 now, making it more accessable. Not Autodesk. A monthly sub for just Fusion360 and Eagle is $60! And that’s their cheepest bundle. If you get any of the more professional bundles, you’re looking at $500+ a month!

Still, I looked around a little bit, and by going to the Fusion360 page and instead of clicking subscribe, I clicked on the plans & pricing link I found out that the free download was not a trial (like it says everwhere else). It’s a full product, though nerfed in some ways that may not affect me. No collab in the software (that’s fine, I’ll use git), only 2 pcb layers (this may become a problem in the future, something I’ll keep an eye out for), 2 schematics (I’m not sure what this will end up doing), and only 80cm2 pcb size. That last one could also be a problem. 80cm2 is 8.94cm a side. I went back to the chip data sheet and after scrolling though the pdf for 260 pages, I found that the chip is 17.1mm on each side, or 1.71 cm. That’s small enough to fit on the board but takes up almost 1/4 of my space for other components. I don’t want to breaking things up into different boards. That’s the whole reason for making my own board.

So, I’m going to have to learn Eagle well enough to design my board in the free version, and then subscribe for a month, long enough to do the actual design, I hope. SO, after my current electronics course, I guess I’ll be hunting for a good Eagle course on Udemy.


Update:

So, after writing this, I was doing some more searching (I can’t remember what for) but found the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. Right now I can’t find a way to get ahold of one of these other than to tear apart a $1300 phone, but I’m looking forward to using one in a future iteration of the cyberdeck.

I also started looking into the Arm Cortex A78 and how to get a soc chip running on this core. No luck yet, but it’s only been a few hours.

Why hunt down these flagship (and expensive) chips? Because who doesn’t want the best? New generations of technology usually bring better performance, lower power usage, or both.

Trying to convince my wife I’ll stick with this one

So, one of the challenges I have with my interests is my own interest in learning so many things. I.E. I jump from interest to interest without much followup. Part of this has been because of how excited about ideas while I’m in a hypomanic/manic phase. Well, maybe a lot of it has to do with this.

Another part is the time from interest to opportunity. When I become interested in learning a new skill, cost usually keeps me from jumping into it with both feet. For example, with building my cyberdeck I am unable to gather the tools I need to experiment and learn hands on. I almost almost get my first few tools for an intrest about the time I drop into a depression and they go unused for a long time.

I’m hoping this time is different.

I’m on medication now, and maybe that will help me stay interested through the ups and downs. Now I just have to convince my wife I’m not just going though a passing phase. I’ve already gone past the point of driving her nuts with my excited evangelism for all the things I want to do. I’ve spent hours each night making wishlist after wishlist, reorganizing, resorting, and revising them. I’ve sacrificed my normal game time to take Udemy courses on electronics, circuit design, and how to set up a workbench.

But I have a long history of jumping from interest to interest to overcome. I don’t have a history of making good decisions with money either, so I have to convince her.

What do you think? What would you do next to convince someone you had a serious interest in a hobby that was going to cost money to get started in?