Logic analysis with Bus Pirate

While preparing for my SD tutorial, I realized it would be a long, uphill battle to debug SPI communications with a two-channel oscilloscope, especially when I had no prior experience on implementing SPI with AVR. To break the learning curve to manageable steps, I decided to get a Bus Pirate, a serial protocol tool I had heard a lot of good things about. What made the decision even easier was the fact that my local electronics supplier had just started selling the SparkFun version of Bus Pirate.

In this compact post, I’ll discuss my first impressions of the Bus Pirate, and try out the logic analyzer functionality.

Bus Pirate General Impressions

The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw the Bus Pirate in real life was how small the device was. As you can see, it’s hardly larger than an SD card. All the components are of surface mount type, LEDs included. USB cable was not included but fortunately I had several in my cable drawer. The thing does not need any other setup than plugging it in and installing the FTDI virtual COM port drivers. After that, it showed up as COM19 and I could connect to it with Putty. See the Bus Pirate 101 tutorial for installation details.

The v3 hardware is based on a PIC chip running at 3.3 volts and it took me a while to get comfortable with the power supply & pullup resistor logic – basically you can either use the Bus Pirate pins “normally” so an output pin is driven by the PIC, or in “open drain” mode, where a CD4066B analog switch connects the lines via pullup resistors to whatever is wired to the Vpu pin. This way, the Bus Pirate can interface with other than 3.3V devices (the PIC only pulls the line down or “lets it go” and the pullup takes the line high).
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Digi-Key Order and Review

Until now, I’ve been ordering all my electronics supplies through the excellent Finnish firm Partco. However, after running out of ATtiny85 chips I just couldn’t make myself pay 5.90€ ($7.80) when the same part was available for third the price from Digi-Key. I decided to try the fabled distributor myself. In case you haven’t tried them yet, read on for my experiences.

Website and Shopping Process

It is surprising how such a successful electronics component retailer is able to operate with such a poorly laid out and difficult to use website. From a usability standpoint, it’s a prime example of how not do design a web store. There’s so much to critize it’s hard to know where to begin, but here my top annoyances for the front page alone:
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PicoScope 2204 USB Oscilloscope Review

PicoScope 2204 USB scope

One of the nicest things when starting a new hobby is that there’s just so many things you don’t yet have, and can thus look forward to researching and then maybe buying if the price is right. In electronics, you can pretty much get started with a $10 soldering iron, $25 multimeter, maybe a $30 programmer if you want to use microcontrollers, and then just buy cheap components to tinker with. But sooner or later, you start thinking about how nice it would be if you had an oscilloscope.

For me it took about nine months. I saw an article on using AVR as an RFID tag and noticed I could build a simple RFID reader with a few components. However, to really learn something, it would be nice to actually see the 125 kHz RFID carrier wave instead of fumbling blindly with the schematics. Additionally, I could use the scope to verify DIY D/A circuits, maybe debug serial protocols and much more. So I started researching.

Getting a used analog or digital scope from eBay was of course one option. However, old scopes are big, clunky and I don’t really have much table space. And if the scope fell out of use, it would be wasting space in a closet. New Chinese-made digital scopes from Owon and Rigol looked good and were relatively small and light. However, they had 640×480 or 800×600 displays and I had 2560×1600 30″ monitor sitting on my workspace, and being more of a software person, I eventually decided against them and chose to get a PC scope instead.

Options in USB scopes

Going through the options for digital scopes, there seemed to be a few price brackets:
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Apple TV First Impressions

Long time no see. I decided that instead of rambling on and on about my newly acquired Apple TV, I’ll just write about it in my blag. I’ve divided the review into sections so you can dive into the action if you’re only interested in one of the aspects.

Pricing and the Package

For Apple, the 119 € they charge for the second generation Apple TV is not much. I mean, it’s like two iPad HDMI cables, right? With that price, you get a beautiful and very small black box that has a HDMI (limited to 720p) output for video/audio, alternative optical S/PDIF output for audio, ethernet jack if for some reason you don’t want to use integrated wireless chip, and a micro-USB slot for debug purposes (no, I think you cannot connect external drives).

I really don’t have anything but positive things to say about the package and hardware, every detail is beatifully executed. For reference, the hi-fi Cambridge Audio dock that is basically just the S/PDIF part of Apple TV costs a whopping 200 €. So if you can live without 96 kHz / 24 bit audio and satisfy yourself with “just” CD quality sound output, you save 80 € and get a ton of features for free.
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