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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

5. A Couple of Important Tools

By this stage, I found I had been buying breadboards, LEDs, and lots of other electronic components, and although you don’t need the soldering kit with breadboards (they’re solderless), you can see from my story above, that soldering can come in at quite an early stage in your new hobby.

One essential tool is the Digital Multimeter (DMM).  This looks like a fairly complicated thing, but you’ll find it indispensible when you need to check the value of a resistor (because you, like me, probably haven’t learned the colour code for resistors), and even check that your connections, soldered or solderless, are good, with the continuity function. 

I have learned to never apply a voltage to a device without firstly checking the device’s recommended voltage range, and measuring the voltage you’re going to apply, to ensure that it is what it’s supposed to be.  Mine was very cheap, but recommended, and although it doesn’t have a capacitor measurement facility, it’s extremely useful for keeping the magic smoke away.  My DMM looks like this:
It can test voltages, currents, resistances, continuity, and even transistors.  If you can get one to measure capacitance also, that would be useful.

Now, coming from a scientific background, and being a real gizmophile, I thought I would splash out and get a Digital Storage Oscilloscope (DSO). 

This is also a complicated looking piece of equipment, and can sometimes take a lot of patience to get it going.  I was delighted to find the DSO Nano, the same size and appearance as a mobile phone, and at an affordable price, even if it was about the second most expensive piece of hardware for me (after the TV for the RasPi).  

Here is a picture of the DSO Nano:

If you like ‘scopes, you’ll really like this dinky item.  Although it comes loaded with its own software (see the display above), there is another, better, version of software available (free, of course), which again takes a little patience to get up and running, but with the help of the web forums, I managed to get it working on my DSO (see below). 

This is useful, and maybe even essential to some of your projects, when you want to see, for example, what the signal coming out of a circuit looks like.  It also can accept a Micro SD card, on which you can save a large number of waveforms.  You don’t even have to remove the card to examine the waveforms if you are powering it via USB from your PC – it can be seen as another device as if it was just another drive on your system.

Here are a couple I prepared earlier:

So you can see how useful this could be for inserting pictures into a document like this one – and it was.  Of course, all the necessary data is also recorded and displayed, to allow you to fully assess the waveform you have captured.

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