Wednesday, February 25, 2009


As I said in my previous post, I wanted to keep electronics as a hobby, but somehow I never managed to do anything.

Part of the reason for this was due to a lack of time - work takes up far to much time and partying is also quite time consuming! Probably the biggest problem though was the lack of a great idea that really inspired me to start a project.

I have toyed with the idea of starting a Microchip PIC project many times. The PIC always looked like a decent platform for cheap home development projects, but somehow the PIC processor didn't really inspire me - I'm very much used to programming Motorola based CPU's and the PIC seems to be more in line with the Intel way of doing things, which for a Motorola fan is not a good thing ;-)

If I had a great idea for a project, then I would have had the inspiration to start a PIC project, but the hardware itself wasn't enough to inspire me into thinking of a project that I wanted to do!

Last weekend, I was visiting a friend in Zurich and he was playing around with an Arduino board. This little thing looked really nice. It features an Atmel ATmega168 processor - I'm familiar with Atmel from my day to day job, but the ATmega168 was a new platform to me. After a brief look at the spec sheet for this processor, it was clear that this little 8-bit processor is quite similar in its architecture and way of doing things to the Motorola processors that I'm more familiar with.

Suddenly I'd found a piece of kit that I really wanted to play with. With the inspiration for the hardware, coming up with an idea for a project was just a matter of time....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A little bit about me, electronics and software

Going back a long way, when I was about 9 years old, I got my very first computer, a Commodore 64! Unfortunately for me (or so I thought at the time), my Dad was prepared to pay for the computer but not prepared to pay for the games! His solution was to buy me a book of game program listings and let me type them in myself! Although I didn't understand what it was all doing at the time, it did give me my first introduction to computer programming :-)

...oh, and the games were really bad too!

So, roll on a few years to late high school and I was actually starting to understand this whole computer programming thing and starting to like it. I also had a passing interest in electronics building basic circuits to do pretty much nothing, but generally playing and learning! By the time it came to leaving school and deciding a future career, I was a little bit torn between electronics or software. My choice at the time was that I would pursue a career in electronics and keep software for a hobby!

So off I went to study electronics, while in the evenings (when I wasn't getting drunk down the pub!), I was teaching myself a little more about software. By this time I had progressed from BASIC programming on the C64 and was now getting into Machine Code (Assembler) programming on the Commodore Amiga - both programming the Motorola 68K (first 68000, later 68020) and the Amiga custom chip set. At this point I already started to realise the advantages of studying electronics when it comes to programming hardware related software!

By the end of my studying, I'd had a bit of a change of heart about my career choice. Rather than have a software hobby, I decided that software was what I really wanted to do and that electronics would be better suited as a hobby!

So for the last 13 years or so, I've been working as an embedded systems software engineer. Initially working on Motorolla 68K based systems and more recently on Motorola/IBM based PowerPC system. The majority of my work over the years has been for developing boot firmware and board support drivers, so plenty of assembly coding, system initialisation etc.

As for the electronics hobby, despite my good intentions, I've done absolutely nothing with electronics since finishing my studies, so I'm a little rusty with my resistor codes ;-) The project I'm planning will be largely software based, but I have no fears or worries about this, however the is a small amout of electronics design required, which is the real challenge for me on this project!

...lets see how it goes.....


What's this all about then?

Well, for many years I've been pondering about doing some sort of micro-controller project and finally I've decided what to do! Its all very exciting :-)

This will be my first such project and, as it seems customary these days, I thought I'd create my first blog to detail what I'm doing as I go along with the project so that other people out there in the interweb can follow my progress, offer me advice or criticism, or gain from my experiences should they want to build a similar project!