Everything for Electronics

Jon Williams

Jon's Articles

Let There Be Colorful Lights!
Column: The Spin Zone
November 2012
It wouldn't be an end-of-year (well, my end-of-year) column without a discussion on lighting, would it? I really enjoy animated lighting control and the Propeller is an excellent platform for it. This month, I'm going to show you how to use the Propeller to control RGB LEDs with an interesting little driver chip called the WS2801.

Show Time!
Column: The Spin Zone
September 2012
Those that know me well know that this is my favorite time of year. Halloween is right around the corner and that's followed up by the Christmas "season" — a couple months where prop displays flourish and indoor/outdoor decorators feverishly work to eclipse their creations of years past. I love this season.

Track’em Danno!
Column: The Spin Zone
July 2012
While many are uncomfortable with the fast pace of technology, for hobbyists like you and me the speed at which things change means that more interesting components become available for us to experiment with.

The Spin Zone
Column: The Spin Zone
May 2012
Back to the Beginning.

The Spin Zone
Column: The Spin Zone
March 2012
CAN We Talk?

The Spin Zone
Column: The Spin Zone
November 2011
Big Fun With Small LEDs.

The Spin Zone
Column: The Spin Zone
September 2011
Serving Up Servo Control.

The Spin Zone
Column: The Spin Zone
July 2011
Small Motor Control Made Easy

The Spin Zone
Column: The Spin Zone
May 2011
Wrangling the 1-Wire Buss.

The Spin Zone
Column: The Spin Zone
March 2011
Wii Will Rock You.

From Spin to PASM and Back Again!
Column: The Spin Zone
January 2011
For those of us that started with the BASIC Stamp and then (perhaps) migrated to the SX via SX/B, there can be a bit of a learning curve moving to the Propeller and its native language, Spin.

Lighting Up the Season — Again!
Column: The Spin Zone
November 2010
I like this time of year. The air is clear (even in Los Angeles!), the mornings are crisp, and the evenings are brightened with holiday decorations that illuminate the insides and outsides of homes everywhere. My home is somewhat small, so my lighting projects are, too. Small doesn't make me wimpy, though, and my little 12-channel lighting board for the Propeller Platform is designed to be tough enough for applications that go way beyond LEDs.

The Joy of Joysticks
Column: The Spin Zone
September 2010
The first joysticks, of course, were simply made up of switches pressed by a plate connected to the stick.Then came analog joysticks which were built up with two potentiometers mechanically linked at a 90-degree angle; one pot for each axis. The original PC joysticks were easy to connect to microcontrollers without hacking. With the proliferation of USB ports, though, analog joysticks changed their interface and are no longer microcontroller-friendly. Darn ...

Propeller Time
Column: The Spin Zone
July 2010
The Propeller’s architecture gives us the ability to be fairly precise about timing without much effort, and I thought it was time we delve into that a bit. Timing, that is.

Spinning Up Fun With Encoders
Column: The Spin Zone
May 2010
While we’re on the topic of expanding inputs with just a few I/O pins, I’m also going to show you how to apply an old trick to this new processor.

Basic Propeller Programming
Column: The Spin Zone
March 2010
If y ou've been waiting for BASIC to play with the Propeller, your wait is over!

SIRCS, Propeller Style!
Column: The Spin Zone
January 2010
SIRCS is a pulse-width modulated protocol transmitted over an IR beam that is primarily used in the consumer electronics arena (TVs, VCRs, DVD players, etc.).

Do It Up With DMX
Column: The Spin Zone
November 2009
Even if you’ve never heard of DMX512-A (DMX), chances are you’ve seen it in action.Where? At any large stage production. Concerts and plays are big users of DMX-controlled lighting.

LCDs & Things
Column: The Spin Zone
September 2009
It must have been 1994 when I discovered how much I enjoy character LCDs. Like so many others, I got started thanks to Scott Edwards and his articles here in Nuts & Volts.

Loving LEDs Again
Column: The Spin Zone
July 2009
The Stamp Applications column has evolved into Propeller based projects now! This month, you'll be loving LEDs again.

Spinning Up Embedded Control Projects
Column: Stamp Applications
May 2009
Get in touch with your Propeller side.

Creating Time-Lapse Video
Column: Stamp Applications
March 2009
In the video age, time-lapse movies are not easily produced with a video camera, but as my friend (and VFX wizard) John demonstrated, one can easily create a time-lapse movie with a digital still camera and video editing software.

The Power Of Networking
Column: Stamp Applications
January 2008
For an actor attempting to make his way in Hollywood, the word “networking” takes on a whole host of meanings. It’s a crazy business, really, and what most of us find is that those with the same goals, e.g., becoming an established actor, are not abundantly helpful to each other (a few are downright malicious). So, “networking” — actor to actor, that is — is mostly bupkis in my book. Now, I do have a “Hollywood” network, but the only actors in it are very well established, if not particularly...

It’s in the Cards
Column: Stamp Applications
March 2008
It seems like at least once a year — and usually around this time of year — I remind myself (and you) that it’s okay to experiment. In fact, experimenting for the sake of experimenting is absolutely worth doing and we should all make time in our schedules for experimenting that doesn’t require or expect any specific results. Why? Well, we all get caught up in our dramas and the things that need to happen right this second, and oftentimes we spend more energy than required...

More Surplus Success
Column: Stamp Applications
May 2008
I may have mentioned my friend Brian once or twice. Brian’s a great guy — a super smart IT professional by day and a bring-down-the house DJ by night. When I lived in Dallas, Brian was a tad jealous because I had Tanner (geek heaven) within minutes of my home. So, I move back to Los Angeles a couple years ago and no more Tanner for me (and I miss them). But, what do I have? That’s right! All Electronics — another gate into geek heaven. Brian was beside himself; what luck I have with my proximity

Putting The Brakes To It
Column: Stamp Applications
July 2008
Even if you’ve never been to Los Angeles, chances are that you’ve heard of the 405 freeway. This infamous chunk of 10-lane hell extends from the San Fernando Valley south through the west side of Los Angeles, past LAX, and all the way down into Orange County where it reconnects with Interstate 5. The 405 spent some time in the news a few years ago for all the gun play associated with “road rage.” As a Los Angeleno who frequently travels the 405, I smile at everybody...

Expirements With Sound
Column: Stamp Applications
September 2008
It would be more than fair to say that I’m a light sleeper. To be honest, I don’t think that I have ever slept for more than a couple hours at a stretch. Don’t get me wrong, I tie a few of those stretches together each night (well, most nights) so that I’m rested in the morning, but I’m certain that I have never slept all the way through the night. I’m not talking about tossing and turning, mind you, I’m talking about full wake-up — usually at the end of a vivid dream or nightmare...

SX/B 2.0
Column: Stamp Applications
November 2008
About four years ago, Ken Gracey — the crazy cat who runs Parallax — decided that it would be a good idea to provide a free BASIC language compiler for the SX microcontroller family. The BASIC Stamp had been around for some time and there were a lot of power users — myself included — that would benefit from such a beast. The goals were pretty simple: Make it PBASIC-like (though not necessarily source compatible), easy to use in the SX-Key IDE, and allow it to be a useful learning tool...

Control from the Couch - Redux
Column: Stamp Applications
January 2009
With the SX and SX/B I think it's time to revisit SIRCs decoding and even couple it with serial I/O so that we can enable dual-mode control (IR plus serial) or have the ability to use our project as an IR-to-serial translator.

Column: Stamp Applications
January 2003
I've been programming BASIC Stamps for almost nine years now and I can say without hesitation that the last couple of months have been the most fun. The new PBASIC editor actually makes the BASIC Stamp seem like a brand new microcontroller. Have you ever owned an old car that you loved so much that you had it painted instead of trading it in and suddenly, that old car seems like it was brand new?

Column: Stamp Applications
May 2004
One of the great things about my job — aside from the fact that I get to work with BASIC Stamps all day long (and get paid for it!) — is the customer contact I am able to have. Almost all of my contacts are very friendly and find what I get to do here with Nuts & Volts useful — sometimes even a bit entertaining. Often, I get messages that are cries for help and I always enjoy helping, when I can. From time to time, a customer will alert me to a part that I hadn’t previously worked with...

Column: Stamp Applications
June 2004
Like most men, I’m not real big on the idea of shopping. I know what I want. I want what I want. I know where to go get it — and that’s precisely what I do: I go get it. Of course, for every rule there is an exception and, for my shopping rule, there are two: book stores and Tanner Electronics in Dallas, TX. I love going to Tanner — even when I don’t need anything specific...

Column: Stamp Applications
July 2004
If you ask my close friends, they’ll tell you that I’m as stubborn as a mule, yet I maintain the right to be human; therefore, the right to be wrong. I’d like to think that, when I am wrong, I admit it — I try, anyway.

Column: Stamp Applications
August 2004
Yep, I’m still a real man, alright. I still live in the great state of Texas, drink milk right out of the carton, leave the toilet seat up, and — in addition to the five remotes I have to run the electronics in my entertainment center — I can now control anything else in my home from my Pocket PC. Yeah, buddy, I have enough control to make Tim Allen grunt with manly-man joy.

Column: Stamp Applications
September 2004
On a recent return trip from Starbucks, I noticed myself doing something that actually made me laugh. While steering with my left had, I would reach down with my right hand to adjust the coffee spout such that coffee would not slosh out while I was cornering. Honestly, I laughed out loud, then immediately thought that, if I had an accelerometer, a stepper motor, and a BASIC Stamp, I could keep both hands on the wheel. An idea was born ...

Column: Stamp Applications
October 2004
The night is drawing closer ... my favorite night of the whole year: Halloween. I love Halloween — the costumes, haunted houses, parties, and friendly exchanges with trick-or-treaters; Halloween is the best. When I have the chance, something I like to do is build Halloween-oriented props and decorations and you can bet that many of those props get some sort of automation via the BASIC Stamp microcontroller.

I2C Again — and the Case for Continuous Improvement
Column: Stamp Applications
November 2004
I get the idea that a lot of BASIC Stamp users have discovered the fun and utility of the myriad (over 1,000) of I2C devices available today — even those users that don’t have the BS2p or BS2pe with the built-in I2COUT and I2CIN instructions.

BASIC Stamp Accessories Made Easier
Column: Stamp Applications
December 2004
Not long after the BASIC Stamp started a revolution in small microcontrollers, Scott Edwards started what turned into a cottage industry: serial accessories. Thanks to the new (and free!) SX/B compiler from Parallax, you, too, can join the serial accessory club ... and do so much more.

Timing Is Everything
Column: Stamp Applications
January 2005
It wasn’t very long after the BASIC Stamp and other BASIC language microcontrollers appeared that advanced users started asking about using interrupts. Well, neither the Basic Stamp family nor — to my knowledge — any of the micros in the same class supports true interrupts...

The Sheer Joy of Experimenting
Column: Stamp Applications
February 2005
Thankfully, most of my experiments since that fateful day have had better results and my dear mom smiles more than she fears for her first-born’s life. You’re probably wondering by now where in the world I’m going with this; well, let me tell you.

Ping… I See You
Column: Stamp Applications
March 2005
Let’s start from the beginning. Why should we even bother with conditional compilation? Well, it depends, really. If we’re going to write a program that will never (yeah, right ...) need to run on another BS2 family module, then we don’t need to bother. What if, however, we want to share our cool program with a friend who uses a different module?

You Can’t Touch That : Non-Contact Access Control
Column: Stamp Applications
April 2005
Okay, what’s going on with the card? You’ve probably seen them — they’re everywhere. The cards in question contain technology called radio frequency identification (RFID). Even if you haven’t heard of RFID, you may have been unknowingly exposed to it. RFID tags can be as small and nearly as thin as a postage stamp and are often used to track package movement in retail stores (big companies like Wal-Mart, Target, and others are adopting the technology). Drug companies are even putting RFID tags i

The Parallax PBD - Freedom to Create
Column: Stamp Applications
May 2005
When I first started working for Parallax my boss, Ken, handed me a big development board and said, “See what you can do with this.” The board was, of course, the original NX-1000, and Ken and I went on to create StampWorks around it. Even after StampWorks, the NX-1000 never left my desk; it was the perfect “playground” for my experiments, and many of my projects forthis column originated on the NX-1000 development board.

Even Mo’Midi
Column: Stamp Applications
June 2005
About two years ago, I did a couple columns on MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) using a BASIC Stamp 2 microcontroller. Our experiments at the time were limited to sending MIDI data. These articles generated a lot of interest, and the most pressing question has been, “How can I receive and process MIDI data in my project?” The fact is that it’s very tough to do that effectively with a BASIC Stamp, but now that we’re equipped with SX/B, we’re ready to rock … and roll …

Getting Hot, Hot, Hot
Column: Stamp Applications
July 2005
Like the BASIC Stamp, the Maxim/Dallas DS1620 has been around a long time and has been a big part of my temperature-based projects. Yet in all this time, I had never explored the high-resolution use of the DS1620. “High resolution?” you ask. Yeah. With just a little bit of extra work, we can get temperature resolution to 0.05 degrees Celsius (0.09 degrees Fahrenheit) from our old stand-by. How is this possible?

A BS2px ADC Trick and a BSI Controller Treat
Column: Stamp Applications
August 2005
The BS2px is the latest edition to the BASIC Stamp microcontroller line. In addition to increased speed, the BS2px adds two new commands that give the programmer access to features available in the core SX microcontroller: CONFIGPIN and COMPARE.

Tricks And Treats With LEDs
Column: Stamp Applications
October 2005
October — it’s finally here! It’s time to build (okay, finish building) our Halloween displays — whether they’re used in yard decorations or in a full-blown, professional haunt. Nothing adds spooky ambience like a candle in a darkened room, but candles can be dangerous — unless you build them yourself and substitute the coolness of LEDs for the heat of an open flame.

The Sounds Of The Season
Column: Stamp Applications
December 2005
A few months ago, one of my Texas prop building friends — an exuberant guy named Vern Graner — told me about a cool MP3 player module from Rogue Robotics called the uMP3 (micro MP3) that was BASIC Stamp compatible. It turns out that Vern is right: the uMP3 player is cool, it is BASIC Stamp compatible, and thanks to recent efforts at Rogue Robotics, it’s even easier to use with BASIC Stamps — including the Prop-1 controller.

Playstation Robot Controller
Column: Stamp Applications
January 2006
For all the columns I’ve written, clearly one of the top three in reader interest was called “PlayStation Control Redux” (September 2003) where we delved more deeply into the PlayStation controller protocol work started by Aaron Dahlen. Well, between then and now, Parallax released the SX/B compiler for the SX micro and the speed issues we dealt with when using a BASIC Stamp are no longer issues. That, and Ken is building a cool new treaded robot that might need a full-featured control device...

Lights, BASIC Stamp, Action!
Column: Stamp Applications
February 2006
Having been raised in the desert of southern California, I’m pretty much a warm weather person. The fact is, I don’t like the winter months — not at all, nothing about them. Okay, except for one thing — holiday lights. The coolest thing about the Christmas season is the lights. I know what you’re thinking: “Hey pal, that was two months ago.” True, but we can do lighting any time of year — and not just for holiday displays. In fact, my own interest in lighting control started when I was 18 ...

Wading The BS1 Debug Stream
Column: Stamp Applications
March 2006
For those of you that have been around for a long time, or have taken the time to go back through past issues of this column, you may remember that Scott Edwards tackled this subject back in October of 1996. Scott was able to [correctly] deduce most of the aspects of the BS1 DEBUG stream through empirical observation. I have the advantage of working “on the inside” and, after spending an hour chatting with our compiler engineer, it’s my intent to show you how to use the BS1’s DEBUG output in you

Putting A Whole New Sping On Embedded Control
Column: Stamp Applications
April 2006
When I first saw the ads in Nuts & Volts for the BASIC Stamp 1 (way back in 1993), I didn’t believe it. I maintained an it’s-just-too-good-to-be-true attitude, and actually put off buying my first BS1 for about six months. Well, for some, that’s about to happen again. After a long, and sometimes arduous development cycle, Parallax has produced its first piece of custom silicon — the Propeller chip. No, it’s not a microcontroller, it’s a heck of a lot more — it’s a multi-controller...

The Object Of The Machine
Column: Stamp Applications
May 2006
So, is your head spinning after last month’s introduction to the Propeller chip? Don’t worry, it happens to all of us, and I promise that after a bit of time things will begin to click, a big smile will cross your face, and wonderful things you thought never possible will start happening. Last month we talked about the Spin programming language being object oriented, but didn’t really take advantage of it. Let’s change that, shall we?

Spin, Baby, Spin
Column: Stamp Applications
June 2006
Well, this month we’re going to wrap-up our intro series on the Propeller multicontroller, and I’m going to show you what I think is the best feature of the chip — the ability to run multiple processors at the same time, even when programmed in the high-level Spin programming language.

A Tale Of Two Props
Column: Stamp Applications
July 2006
After spending a few months with Parallax's newest controller - the Propeller chip - why not step back in time a bit (13 years!) and work with the oldest, the venerable BS1 - the controller that started it all for Parallax.

Stepping Out With Spin
Column: Stamp Applications
August 2006
Are you ready to get some motors spinning? Yeah, me too. As we saw last month with the BS1, to get more performance we have to think differently. With the Propeller chip, the entire paradigm is different and we are, in fact, forced to adapt...

SX/B Turns Sweet 16
Column: Stamp Applications
September 2006
There are those — the pessimists among us — that will insist that you can’t get anything worthwhile for nothing; everything has a price. Not so with SX/B. While it may not compete with big, “professional” compilers, in the right hands (i.e., yours) and with a few tricks, SX/B is quite capable and costs absolutely zero dollars. And with the cost of the SX-Key programming tool and SX Proto Boards so low these days, it’s really hard to ignore the SX micro as a viable solution...

Goin With The Glow
Column: Stamp Applications
October 2006
I’m pretty sure that Scott Edwards had no idea what he was starting way back in the early ‘90s when he released his first serial LCD. Back then, the target customer was someone like me — a BASIC Stamp 1 user who wanted a nice display but didn’t have a lot of spare I/O pins to support it. Well, as we’ve seen, serial LCD modules have become about as ubiquitous to electronics experimenters as the 555 timer chip. There are, however, environments that can present serious challenges to LCDs...

Hacking The Parallax GPS Module
Column: Stamp Applications
November 2006
In September, we talked about exciting new updates in the SX/B compiler and now we’re going to put a few of them to use with a cool new GPS product from Parallax. This isn’t just another GPS module. It was specifically designed to be hacker-friendly. How? Well, it uses an SX20 and the firmware was written in SX/B — and you can download this code from Parallax. Better still, is the addition of several nondescript pads on the PDB...

Celebrating The Season
Column: Stamp Applications
December 2006
A key element in the Hanukkah ritual is the Menorah — a special candelabra used to commemorate the eight days of the celebration. This month, we’re going to build a Menorah — an electronic version, that is...

Stamp Applications
Column: Stamp Applications
January 2007
Having been a part of the BASIC Stamp community since 1994, I’ve had the wonderfully-good fortune to meet a lot of experimenters, and — due to my exposure through Nuts & Volts and six years with Parallax — I’ve been asked to create a wide variety of projects. One of the most frequently requested, but that is not really practical with a BASIC Stamp, is a Pinewood Derby racing timer. Well, now that programming the SX is nearly as easy as programming the BASIC Stamp...

Livin’ Life On The SX28
Column: Stamp Applications
March 2007
It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been programming in one form of Basic or another for over 25 years now ... wow, that seems like a long time! I taught myself to program on the venerable Timex-Sinclair 1000, my first “real” computer...

Control Virtually Anything… Virtually
Column: Stamp Applications
May 2007
When the SX microcontroller was developed, the core philosophy was to create a chip fast enough and clean enough that most specialized peripherals could be made “virtual,” that is, created in code...

Rev It Up
Column: Stamp Applications
July 2007
For me, one of the most exciting aspects of working with the SX and programming it in SX/B is the ability to create accessory devices like last month’s animatronics controller...

Where’s Waldo?
Column: Stamp Applications
September 2007
It seems like the animation controller from May was a hit. I got a lot of very positive email and many readers have been creating derivative applications for controlling servos..

Dimming The Lights Fantastic
Column: Stamp Applications
November 2007
Lamp dimming — specifically 120 VAC lamp dimming — had been on my mind for quite a long time, and this year I finally jumped in and tackled the process. It started with a four-channel device called the FC-4 that I designed for EFX-TEK...

Vixen Lights The Way
December 2007
Vixen doesn’t come with a traditional installer so I’m going to walk you through the steps to get it up and running on your Windows PC...