This tool has helped me many times

Oscilloscope settings knobsBut how do you learn it?

Back in the 90’s, my dad brought home an oscilloscope.

He knew I was getting more and more interested in electronics – so he borrowed an old oscilloscope from his workplace. Maybe it was from the 80’s, and it had lots of buttons with strange names on them.

An oscilloscope is an instrument that lets you look at how signals behave over time. [Read more…]

How To Use An Oscilloscope

How to use an oscilloscopeI learned how to use an oscilloscope pretty much on my own. The first time I tried one, I only got some simple instructions, then I was left to myself to figure things out.

But I found that it wasn’t really that hard…

The oscilloscope can be a bit overwhelming with all its functions. But you don’t need to know every detail of it. You can actually come a long way by knowing just a few simple things.

[Read more…]

Can capacitors explode?

How does a capacitor work? Two platesYes, indeed.

When I was young, my oldest brother, John, went to a high school for those who wanted to become electricians.

One day when he came home from school, he was very enthusiastic.

Our parents were not home, and he brought me and my second brother, Erik, down to the basement to show us something.

From his pocket, [Read more…]

How to send a balloon into space?

balloon-project-julio-1This is a guest post from Julio Cesar Torres. He sent a balloon to space after learning about electronics! Read his captivating story below:

When I was a kid, I was always eager for Sunday morning, just waiting for the time to watch Carl Seagan’s “Cosmos” on TV.

Back then, my couch turned into a spacecraft and I could go to places light-years distant from home. All was discovery and astonishment.

One thing that got me mostly surprised was to know that the Earth had multiple atmospheric layers, and contrary to the common sense, there are upper layers that are hotter than lower ones. This always caught my imagination, and I have been fascinated by this kind of subject ever since.

After many years, I got to know a hobby that put me in direct contact with this childhood passion: High Altitude Balloonism, a.k.a. HAB. It is a hobby where people send unmanned aircraft into the stratosphere to take pictures and videos, to gather scientific data, having a pretty good time in preparing for the missions.

It is an opportunity to learn a lot while we have tons of fun.

One of the skills most needed in HAB is electronics: to design and build the flight instruments, the data logging modules, and to integrate with radio communication, cameras and GPS. I wanted badly to be able to carry out these tasks, to create my own balloon mission and to reach the stratosphere.

But I hadn’t enough electronics skills to be able to successfully create this these devices.

Searching the web I found Oyvind’s ebook «Creating Cheap Circuit Boards», and that was kind of an epiphany to me – the simple techniques he taught in that ebook, from the idea to the finished circuit (fabricated PCBs included) enabled me to adventure in my childhood’s desire: get near the space…

Aleph FDR v.1 board

The Aleph Flight Data Recorder Project

In this project, I have adopted an iterative development strategy. The first iteration will be all about creating the circuit’s base, as well as including a RTC clock and an onboard temperature sensor. I am going to focus mostly on the circuit design and implementation, and in another article I will talk about the software design and engineering process.

As I learnt from Oyvind’s ebook, Getting Started With Electronics, I can use the component’s datasheet to discover important information, as the voltage, temperature limits, and most important of all, a schematic of the typical circuit.

I got DS1307’s and LM35’s datasheets, and there I got the schematics for their typical circuits. These layouts are pretty straightforward, and my main job was to integrate these two little circuits into one layout, and set a way for the board to communicate with the Arduino microcontroller.

So I started out hand-drawing the two schematics, and connecting them in the supply lines. For both these integrated circuits, the input voltage is +5V. So they could share the input voltage and the ground. I also added an LED indicator, to show me when my circuit is on. I finally drew the connection from these components to a male header bus, to connect the board to the microcontroller.

Aleph FDR v.1 schematics

With this schematic in hand, I drew it in Eagle and generated the circuit board to send to a fabrication facility. There are plenty of fabrication services out there, which are not expensive and suit well for a hobby project like this one. You can find some suggestions in Oyvind’s article Cheap PCB Design Process.

Aleph FDR v.1 board

Some important “extra” things I decided to put in my layout:

First, I wanted to draw a ground plane, to make all components share a common reference potential, but also to simplify the traces’ routing, by connecting each component’s ground directly to the ground plane.

Another thing I wanted to include was the mounting hole spots. In my prior experiences with a PCB design the thing that I regretted the most was not having a spot to mount my boards – so I had to improvise, and I hated the results I got from this… :)

Further steps

I am now looking forward the next iterations for The Aleph Near Space Project, and some of the things I am planning to incorporate are:

  • Add new sensors to the circuit: external temperature, air humidity, air pressure, altitude, magnetic field, etc;
  • Store data in SD Cards;
  • Software’s parameter storage in EEPROM;
  • LED/OLED display;
  • Solar cell or LiPo battery powering options;
  • Wifi config interfaces;
  • design an Arduino clone in the circuit board, to have autonomous life without the extra microcontroller board!

Well, for the first iteration, that’s all I’ve got to tell. If you are interested in the outcome of this project, or if you would like to get involved in it, you are very welcome to contact me – please, send an email to

Thanks a lot!

Return Home