Thanks to a subscriber at my YouTube Channel, I now have a version of Simplify3D to evaluate. This is an expensive software package ($150) to control a 3D printer. It doesn't design the print, just slices it and send the generated G-Code to the printer. Its the only 3rd party software that works with the Da Vinci 1.0 3D printer stock software.
I want to see if it gives me better quality prints and if it allows me to do things I cannot do with the stock Da Vinci software. Simplify3D gives you far more control of the print. You can set the heat of the print at different layers. You can slow down or speed up the print at different times. You can change the fill at different points in the print. The biggest advantage is you can control where supports for added or removed for sections of the print that may hang over and fall if not supported.
I'm just getting started with the software so it will take me time to learn it. There is a lot to learn. I hope to do some videos on the software in the future so if you are interested in that, stay tuned to my YouTube Channel. I also like the fact that it will work with many different printers. This allows me to jump to a different printer in the future if I need to and not have to learn new software. That is a nice feature.
I've been using the Great Cow Basic compiler for Microchip PICs for many years. Probably around 15 years now. I was never a heavy user and in the early days it was a bit limited and difficult to use. That was then and today it's a totally different story. There have been many great contributors to this open source compiler and the creator Hugh Considine is still behind the scenes making improvements. A new version is close to release and hopefully by the time you read this you will see an update dated with a February or March 2015 release.
The compiler has expanded to support both PIC and AVR microcontrollers. A full featured IDE is now available and works great. There have been many new commands added and improved documentation. One thing that was missing in the past was a library of sample code and now that is available too.
Evan Venn, a top contributor, worked closely with Hugh and with some key forum members, to expand the compiler and sample code and commands to make it on par with any BASIC compiler out there.
What I like the best is it produces a pure assembly code file. This allows me to see the core libraries and how they work. It allows me to load the assembly file into MPLAB and run debug mode or on the simulator without any special changes to the file or any special setup requirements. In fact MPLAB doesn't know a BASIC compiler created it. It thinks its a raw assembly code file.
So I suggest you give it another look. I created a separate website at greatcowbasic.com to help make it easier for a beginner to get started but I need to really update that site. The main Great Cow Basic site is a sourceforge website that has improved over time. So give it another look and let me know what you think?
My guess you'll want to try it out.
Back on December 23, 2014 I wrote a blog post asking "Is Radio Shack Done?" and the answer is apparently YES! They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It appears that Sprint, the phone company, may take over some of the stores and there is rumor that Amazon may be interested in some stores for a brick and mortar presence. I visited one of my local Radio Shack's and found it having a big closing sale. I picked up a few parts for cheap including some copper clad boards for cutting my own circuit boards on my recently completed Shapeoko 2.
While I was there I found the latest Radio Shack project flyer. These are 8 1/2 x 11 color glossy sheets that have a project using Radio Shack parts. When I first saw these in the store, I thought this was a great idea and I thought about contacting them to offer to write a few myself. Then I remembered that they reviewed my books a while back and they weren't interested in them because they weren't Arduino. So I said screw it.
As I collected many of these project sheets I noticed that most were very simple projects that I often found a bit dated. This last one I picked up at the sale summarized it for me. The flyer showed the project for a countdown timer run by an Arduino module. But rather than have the user plug in an LCD shield they have them wire a couple 7 segment displays. Then I realized this was an Inventables project and Radio Shack was just using them for content.
I thought, why use a whole Arduino rather than just an Arduino microcontroller. But then I realized they don't carry the crystal or the USB to RS232 adapter to program it. And I can't tell you if I ever saw an LCD shield in the store. But most shocking of all was the construction. They show someone drilling a 1/2" hole in the plastic box with a spade flat blade. That is asking for trouble as the blade will smack that box around and the hole will be a mess. It's all old school.
The flyer said in small print that it was created by Instructables based on a project by Randy Sarafan. It referenced RADIOSHACKDIY.com but when I went there I could not find it. In fact the projects there were all far more complicated than what I could build with the stuff I found at Radio Shack. So clearly this was created for Radio Shack store and not for the DIY site. So it got me thinking; How would I have created Radio Shack featured projects?
First I would have recommended Radio Shack present a modern DIY project. First, show a brief summary on the flyer of all the steps and a link to the full plans online. A teaser for the full project. Show how to wire the circuit on a breadboard (using Fritzing.org or a Radio Shack branded version) and then show the board layout with a Radio Shack featured board layout partner (such as ExpressPCB or Kicad) and offer the gerber files as a download or run on your home CNC machine.
Then show the steps to wire it all up using the Arduino IC, not the module (use your Arduino to program the device with the free software download). Then offer the .STL file for the 3D printed box to fit the circuit with holes designed in for the LEDs and the pushbutton switch on the side.
Then reference that you can buy online or in the store, all the parts in a kit including a pre-made circuit board and optional 3D printed box. Promote the build your own with your own Radio Shack featured Arduino module, Radio Shack featured 3D printer, Radio Shack featured Inventables Shapeoko 2 CNC machine and all the components available at Radio Shack and RadioShack.com.
Encourage customers to submit projects to the Radio Shack DIY website and if selected would become a future kit and receive a ticket for a drawing in the free tools give-away. Bonus entries for using Radio Shack parts. Can you imagine your project wins you a free 3D printer?
It would promote the components and kits at Radio Shack, the tools needed including a 3D printer and make Radio Shack a relevant place to get this kind of information.
Offer a blog every week showing the latest Radio Shack featured DIY project. And have a project once a month for kids to build with mom or dad the way Home Depot does with little wood projects to build a future generation of customers. Feature the latest project on the Radio Shack YouTube Channel and post it to Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
In other words, get out of the 80's and become 2015 and beyond. But this idea will never happen because Radio Shack decided that being just another phone seller was far more important than trying to stay relevant in the DIY community they helped launch all those years ago. Instead they just went lazy and relied on inventables to do the dirty work. And what incentive was there to feature Radio Shack?
They lost site of who they were and why they were such a name in the DIY community of my generation. And so Radio Shack is gone. Sorry, but I don't think they will be missed.
It's been a while since I updated my blog. I've been very busy in my shop and my YouTube Channel continues to grow approaching 1000 subscribers. During all this I was able to put in the hours needed to complete my Shapeoko 2 that I purchased around Christmas. There was a $100 off sale and I bought one.
The kit has a lot of steps and it's not really a beginner kit but I was able to get it together and cut my first piece of wood. I had several mis-attempts because I had not setup the GRBL software properly. Inventables gave me the tip to check the settings and I found the error.
I was finally able to cut out my new CHEP logo and it did a fine job. I need to make a visit to Harbor Freight tools to see what bits I can get for this thing. I want to get some small blade bits so I will be able to cut out circuit boards. My goal is to find a way to cut out 2 layer boards from ExpressPCB files. I can get the gerbers through CopperConnection and then I'll try to find a Gerber to G-Code converter. I know it exists but I just haven't put the time to fully investigate the steps plus I didn't have the the CNC tool to test it all out until now. Learning to cut circuit boards is just one thing on my list of things to do.
I also 3D printed a base to mount the Arduino board to the frame. If you look close you can see that the mounting bosses split. I have a fix I want to try so that will be part of a future YouTube video. If you have one of these Shapeoko's and have some tips for me, I'm all ears.
For Christmas I bought myself a Shapeoko 2 CNC machine. I'm still waiting for it to arrive but my own CNC machine is something I've been dreaming about for a long time. I've watched CNC machines come down in price and thought about getting a cheap Chinese-built unit on EBAY but the software was always the hangup. They all seemed to use Mach 3 software which required a computer with a parallel port. I had two computers that fit the requirement but they both crashed in the past year so I preferred to get a USB controlled unit. I also wanted an easy software for creating the design. When the Inventables.com guys released the Easel software that also controlled their Shapeoko 2 CNC kit, I was sold.
I saw them at the Detroit MakerFaire and saw the Easel software in action. I wrote about it in aprevious post. Well over the holiday, I saw the Shapeoko 2 was on sale for $100 off. This is because the new Shapeoko 3 was coming out soon. Shapeoko 2 had everything I wanted so I bought it while on sale.
I received an email that my package was shipped and they are in Chicago and I'm outside Detroit so it shouldn't take long to get here. I'm told it takes about 10-12 hours to put it all together so I'll be doing that over a period of time. I also plan to time lapse record it for my YouTube channel.
To get a CNC machine with software for around $550 is something I hoped I'd see but never thought it would happen this soon. I plan to build things that my 3D printer can't and find ways to combine CNC, 3D prints and Electronics to make some interesting projects. I just wish I had more time to play with all these great tools.
And best of all, if you have been following me for a while, you know I'm a really fan of 8-bit microcontrollers. I prefer PICs but most of all I prefer the simplicity of 8-bit. I've had people tell me that I'm crazy for not switching over to 32 bit but I'm still not convinced I need that extra horsepower for what I like to do; build electronic products. Well my 3D printer is 8-bit, and now so is my Arduino controlled CNC Shapeoko 2. Not to mention my lab full of 8-bit PIC boards and projects. Tell me again why I need to switch to 32 bit?
I've always wanted a low cost way to program PICs and a tablet seemed like a great solution. But most tablets either didn't have a USB port for the programmer or ran an operating system that didn't support the software tools I like to use such as Great Cow Basic and PICkit 2 software. Then I found the Winbook tablets at Microcenter. They offer a very low cost tablet that runs a full version of Windows 8.1 and has as full size USB port. On the smaller ones they are a USB 2.0 and on the larger versions they offer USB 3.0.
The pre-Christmas deals offered the smallest 7" Winbook for $59.95. It included Windows 8.1, 16GB of Flash Storage and 1GB of RAM. It also has wireless-N and a micro-HDMI port. So I bought one and downloaded the Great Cow Basic IDE at my Greatcowbasic.com site. I then ran the software without issue. The next step was to test the PICkit 2 on the USB port. This worked smoothly as the GCB IDE has the PICkit 2 command line interface built in. The programmer launched and programmed a PIC16F886 on a CHIPINO module without issue.
I did find that 8GB of the 16GB was taken up by the operating system and other features so the memory size is limited, but plenty for what I was doing, at least I thought so. Then I decided to see if the Davinci 3D printer software, XYZware, would run on it. I downloaded that and it ran fine. I could load a 3D print into my Davinci without issues and the print was launched. My next step was to try and install the ExpressPCB software I like to use for creating circuit boards. Before I did that, I decided I needed a keyboard and mouse first. I tried a bluetooth keyboard but I couldn't it them to connect so I used a USB expander and was able to connect the PICkit 2, USB Keyboard and USB mouse to the tablet and everything worked great.
I also wanted to to see if I could load Chrome on the tablet so I could modify Tinkercad designs but I found the memory usage was already getting low. Seems that Windows did an update and used up a bunch of space. I have to figure out what I can do to get some of that back but my idea of installing ExpressPCB may not be possible either. I guess 16GB isn't enough space. The 32GB is $139.95 but as the price gets higher I may just stick with a low cost laptop. The tablet has a microSD card slot so I'm going to try and load the programs on there and see if I can run everything from the SD card. So I've achieved one goal of programming PICs with a tablet but to create designs, write the software, send the 3D print file for a complete design from a tablet will require more memory with the SD card if that works or spend more money on a larger tablet which is not what I want to do. But at least I know its possible at the simplest of all levels. I can write a Great Cow Basic program and program a CHIPINO module with the code. Not bad at all for $59.95.
A reader of this blog, Frans Stevens, pointed out that the schematic for my Build Your Own PICkit 2 schematic had an error. The USB connections to D+ and D- were backward. I quickly looked over the schematic and also the PCB layout because I've built many of these and they all worked. But I found out he was right, the schematic was wrong. Luckily the PCB was correct and that is why all my PK2 programmers work fine.
Pin 2 of the USB needs to connect to D- and pin 3 needs to connect to D+. I had them backwards in the schematic. So I immediately updated the schematic and uploaded to the Build Your Own PICkit 2 page. Its awesome to have such supportive readers with the willingness to share any errors they find. I want my information to be accurate but I'm human and do make mistakes. Thanks Frans.
I had a little bit of free time after the Thanksgiving Holiday so I created a few 3D printer projects. One was an Advent Calendar Christmas Tree. This took all the space my Davinic 3D printer could support and took two print runs to finish it.
The blocks slide out and can be flipped so the number is hidden. Everyday you take one number and flip it until only #1 is left and that is Christmas Eve. The design was done in Tinkercad and the full build is shown on my YouTube Channel and in the video below.
I did it as a count-down to 1 but you can reverse the blocks and make it show the calendar day so place the #1 in the bottom and the #24 at the top. The blocks slide out easily and can be pushed from the back. At some point I could print one of these and put LEDs on the blocks so a Microcontroller can do the count-down automatically.
All the files are open source on Tinkercad and the .stl's are available at Thingiverse.
I've returned as a columnist for Nuts & Volts Magazine. My column titled "Getting Started with 3D Printing" started today in the December issue of Nuts and Volts Magazine. I wrote the "Getting Started with PICs" column from 2006 thru 2009 and it ended for reasons beyond my control but I'm happy to be back.
The idea behind the column is to help anybody just getting started with 3D printing with tips and tricks that I've learned or will soon learn as I get deeper into 3D printing myself. There is so much to learn beyond downloading a thingiverse file and printing it. And with the various low cost printers available, I thought the timing was right to help others get started.
If you are a regular reader of this blog though, you know I've been writing about my 3D printer adventures for some time. But the N&V column is written for the electronics hobbyist who wants to design that custom case or special mount for their electronic project. There is so much 3D printing can offer and I feel like it's just getting started. Reminds me of the early days of the PC. I think we are still waiting for that killer app or killer print that will make everybody want a 3D printer the same way Visicalc did for the early PCs.
I've also added some new videos to my YouTube Channel that weren't posted here. I'm trying to separate this blog and the YouTube Channel a bit because I still want to help those who still are looking for my help with their electronics hobby. If you are a subscriber to N&V then check out the column. If not, maybe find it on the newsstand and see if it something you'd like to read. I hope to keep that column running for a long time.
I recently bought a CLOUDBIT kit from littleBits and it's expected to arrive in a few days. What interested me the most is the application they advertise for a doorbell switch that will send you a text message when the switch is pressed. The idea is to indicate someone is at your door even if you aren't home at the time.
I found this idea interesting because there are so many projects where I'd like to receive a text message indicating something timed out or a process completed. That way I don't have to sit and monitor it or check back often. One such process is 3D prints. When a print is done I'd like to receive a text message letting me know.
I've read about multiple different modules that allow you to connect to the internet but I found most of them very confusing. That was until I found littleBits. The module has a linux computer on-board so this is more than just a little plug and play module, it's a very complicated module that reduces the internet access down to a high/low signal.
The module relies on an internet service called IFTTT which stands for If That Then This. I've visited the site and it appears to be some kind of scripting language setup that allows you to easily create actions based on various inputs and outputs all connected through the internet. I hope to understand it a lot better when I get the CLOUDBIT running on my Davinci 3D printer so stay tuned if you have any interest in this type of project.