Category Archives: News

433Mhz RF communication between two PIC microcontrollers

The Arduino VirtualWire makes communication between two microcontrollers really easy – simply send some data onto the TX module and it magically appears on the on RX module. We’ve already built most of this functionality using our Manchester encoding/d… Continue reading

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Margate games: locating bullets with sound

I’ve been working on a system that uses microphones to locate where a bullet has hit the wall, so that I can make a digital firing range using lasers and Nerf guns. Since I posted last, I’ve been thinking more … There’s more
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Margate games: Digital shooting gallery R&D

I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since my first Margate visit and since then there’s been a burst of technical R&D. I’ve decided to recreate the magic of an old fashioned side show, with additional computers and lasers. … There’s more
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Receiving Manchester-encoded data over a single wire using Oshonsoft

Having built a single-wire transmitter, it’s time to receive the encoded data.We’re running this code on a PIC16F883 on it’s own internal oscillator at 8Mhz. The code includes error checking, but not correction- i.e. if a message received is junk, it’s… Continue reading

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Manchester Encoded Transmission using Oshonsoft

We’ve been playing about with one-wire Manchester-encoded data again, only this time using (our preferred) Oshonsoft PIC compiler. We’ve been using pretty much the same techniques as before, only this time, in BASIC rather than C.Here’s the first part,… Continue reading

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Margate Games residency – revisiting Margate

It was my first visit to Margate yesterday since I was a kid. I walked around and got a feel for the town, and was lucky enough to get a tour of the dilapidated theme park, Dreamland. There are creepers … There’s more
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Espruino – javascript on a microcontroller?

I’d forgotten all about this, until a parcel arrived yesterday, from Singapore or somewhere like that. I’ve been hitting eBay quite hard lately, so it could have been any number of things. But it turned out to be my Kickstarter reward for a project I b… Continue reading

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Hall sensor tester

One of our board sections seems to have a fault.No matter how many times we introduce a playing piece over just one square of just one board section, there’s no data coming back from it.It’s not a design fault, because other, identical, board sections … Continue reading

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Soldering SMT components by hand

A few people have asked about how we soldered up our working board game sections a short while back. Specifically, they asked about our pick-n-place machine and reflow oven (as it was assumed that this is the only way to successfully use SMT components… Continue reading

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Sourcing components

Here at Nerd Towers, we love Farnell.
They’re not always the cheapest, but their website is easy to use, very rarely do we fail to find the component we’re looking for – even if there’s no exact match, their website is intelligent enough to offer alternatives. Compared to something like the Rapid website, it’s miles ahead (Rapid have this amazing ability to drag in the most irrelevant results into your search, offering 500+ components to choose from instead of five or six!).

Farnell also offer amazing service. Order something as late as 7pm and it’ll almost certainly be on your doormat the next morning. But yesterday we were seduced by their main rival RS Components. It’s only a dalliance – maybe nothing more than a fling, or even a one-night-stand, but it did make us re-consider how we source our components.

It started with hall sensors.
Farnell sell the AH180 for 61p each, or 50p each if you buy a few.
RS sell the same thing for 26p, or 22p each if you go for a hundred or more.
That’s less than half the price of Farnell! Wow.

For our digital board game, we’re also using some PIC microcontrollers. We chose the 16F570 because it’s the cheapest 28-pin PIC on the Farnell website (trust us, Nick spent hours going through just about every one our compiler supported, to find the cheapest one that still did everything we needed it to!).

The 16F570 from Farnell is 95p, or 68p if you buy in bulk.
But since we’re already buying from RS (and they offer next day delivery up to 8.30pm) we thought we’d see if they offer these PIC chips at a lower price too. They don’t.

A 16F570 (quite a low-end microcontroller in PIC world) costs an incredible £9.80 from RS Components! More than ten times the most expensive price from Farnell! Double-wow.

So today’s lesson is, simply, to shop around.
Sure, you can buy components in bulk from China, but they take six-to-eight weeks to arrive and you need to buy a bucketful at a time (plus the failure rate is higher, and there’s no real chance of returning faulty items). But we tend to stick to “local” suppliers – or at least, UK-based, who can get our goods to us the next day – before we’ve had time to get bored with what we’re doing and move onto something else.

So the trick is – much like supermarket shopping – to not buy everything all from the same place.
After all, that’s how the supermarkets make their money. The more astute shopper might buy their bread from one, milk from another and so on, to make sure they get the best deals. For most of us it’s simply impractical to drive from one to the other, to save a few quid on the weekly shop – and that’s what supermarkets rely on, to rake in their profits.

What is quite alarming is the extent to which online shops seem to be doing the same thing. And given that they deliver your goods right to your door, there’s no real cost in doing some comparison shopping.: an alternative supplier is only a click away, not on the other side of the city, or in the next town.

So, for many of you who are  already doing this, well done. But if, like us, you tend to stick to one known supplier, because it’s who you know (and they make the checkout process super-easy) maybe it’s time to consider alternatives. We certainly will, from now on!

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