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Showing posts from July, 2013

Trials & Tribulations with the ATmega168

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I created a board design for some hardware that involves two ATmega chips in TQFP form.  TQFP stands for Thin Quad Flat Package, and is basically on the larger end of the surface-mount chips (but still way smaller than chips in DIP form).  Whether you use ATmega328 or ATmega168 chips on this board is irrelevant until you start talking about large quantities, in which the 168 will spare a great deal of production costs.  What this hardware does is irrelevant for now (though you will find out soon enough), but I wanted to share my experiences trying to get this board and its chips to work in exactly the way I intended.  It was very difficult, for some reason, to get the 168s to cooperate with me, while the 328s worked with no trouble at all.

My Board Design, with ATmega168s and SMD resistors (all soldered on by hand by Yours Truly, who doesn't even have all that much soldering experience :-P)
The Problem?
One of my product requirements is that users can upgrade the firmware on the chip…

DFW Restaurant Week 2013 Listing in Open Data Format

Residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area can, as of this past Monday, begin making reservations at any of a number of area restaurants participating in DFW Restaurant Week 2013.  The choices are astounding; there are 131 restaurants to choose from between Weatherford and Rockwall, and from Denton down to Balch Springs.

However, given the way the data is presented on most of these websites, how are you supposed to make heads or tails of it?  The restaurants are often listed in tabular form, complete with obscure pictures & color codes to tell you what days these restaurants will be offering what kinds of services and specials.  Not only that, but not everyone knows exactly where every single avenue and alley these restaurants are on, so it might be easy for you to miss out on restaurants near you.

To rectify this, I am opening up access to a JSON dataset of all the restaurants participating in DFW Restaurant Week 2013.  You can download the dataset at http://www.headonout.com/dfw-rest…

VGA Monitor Output from an Arduino

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One of the coolest things about programming on a platform for the first time is making something graphical or somehow otherwise tangible to the eye.  Terminal apps generally aren't very exciting because they're just text, but making an application with its own window & graphics is much more exciting for the beginner.  If it's a microcontroller, making that LED blink is a first big step toward future fun.  However, there is a lot more to do when it comes to making graphical output from microcontrollers -- output on 7-segment displays, an LED matrix, LCD touchscreens, or the pinnacle & mainstay of computer displays -- the monitor.
Having taken a class in FPGA design and becoming fascinated with video output without needing an operating system, I decided to look into what it'd take to use the Arduino to produce VGA output.  It turns out the hardware requirements can be somewhat hard to come by these days: A nice, old, tolerant CRT monitor -- my LCD monitors won…