Adding Images to EAGLE PCB Layouts

Over at Instructables, I created a tutorial on how to add custom graphics to EAGLE PCB layouts. EAGLE is a very popular layout tool for electronic circuit boards known as PCBs. The tool is powerful but some things are not obvious. We were working on a PCB layout and wanted to add our logo to the design. After spending the afternoon searching around, I finally decided to brute-force the process. I figured it out and now I can replicate the process of adding images to EAGLE. I thought that  I would share what I’ve learned so it will be easier for you.

For this instructable you will need an installed copy of EAGLE and a PCB Layout that you want to add some graphics to. I am using SparkFun’s FT232RL USB-to-Serial Breakout PCB (EAGLE Files) for example purposes.

Adding Custom Graphics to EAGLE PCB LayoutsMore DIY How To Projects

Mini Vox Robot Hacking

Yes, I went to Radio Shack today. And, yes, I will still call it Radio Shack. And, yes, sometimes you need a quick electronics fix. I get most of my stuff online these days.

Radio Shack had the Erector Spykee Mini Vox robot on sale for $10. The Mini Vox takes voice commands and makes the robot move, talk, dance, and even fire a “laser.” The box says, “Ages 7+” – I fit that category. The box also says, “Some assembly required.” It should have said, “Some de-assembly required.”

Mini Vox Voice Controlled Robot

While playing with the demo model at the store, I realized that I could reuse the voice commands to set inputs on a microcontroller.

The voice commands go something like this:

“Mini Vox”

Robot beeps

“Forward”

Robot moves forward

Here are all of the commands and their response:

  1. “Forward”DC motors get positive voltage
  2. “Backup”DC motors get negative voltage
  3. “Turn Left”One DC motor gets positive voltage and the other negative
  4. “Turn Right”One DC motor gets positive voltage and the other negative
  5. “Laser War”LEDs flash and RGB LED flashes different colors
  6. “Yo Man”Says “Yo Man” back at you and RGB LED flashes different colors
  7. “Electro Dance” – Makes sounds, LEDs flash, RGB LED flashes different colors, and DC motors pulse on and off
  8. “Destroy Target”Says, “This is my favorite,” makes sounds, flashes LEDs, and RGB LED flashes colors

When I got Mini Vox home, I ripped it apart. I was quite surprised how responsive the voice commands are and how many parts are inside this little robot. Most of the parts are reusable.

Here’s what you get for your $10 investment:

  • Orange LED (x2)
  • RGB LED
  • DC Motor (x2)
  • Motor Driver Circuit Boards (x2)
  • 8 ohm Speaker
  • Microphone
  • Slider Switch
  • Momentary Push Button
  • Lots of screws

Mini Vox Guts

The forward and the back up voice commands are the easiest to tap into. You can disconnect the DC motors and connect them to a digital input of a microcontroller and now you can use voice commands to set the state of 2 digital inputs and act on them.

If I come up with something clever, I will let you know. But, the first piece of my Iron Man suit has fallen into place.

$10 Mont Blanc Rollerball Hack

My dad gave me a Mont Blanc pen as a gift a while back. I love the pen – it writes amazingly smooth, it’s rather expensive, and I also don’t want to lose it.

On the site Instructables.com, I found a pen hack tutorial. Someone figured out that the refill for the Mont Blanc rollerball pen is the same as the refill for the Pilot G2 pen. The Mont Blanc is so nice because of the tip and the refill has the nib right on it. I picked up some office supplies and recreated the project. I bought a Pilot G2 for $3 and a Mont Blanc rollerball refill for $7 at Staples. My Pilot G2 / Mont Blanc rollerball pen turned out great. I feel much more comfortable carrying the hacked version around.

The Pilot G2 Mont Blanc

Here are some tips:

    • You can get blue or black Mont Blanc refills.
    • The Pilot G2 is the “0.7 Fine Point” version of the pen.
    • The Mont Blanc rollerball refill is slightly larger than the ink cartridge of the Pilot G2.

All you have to do is trim down the Mont Blanc refill and match the size. I took some sand paper and smoothed down the plastic endcap to match the size of the Pilot G2 rollerball cartridge.

Here is the tutorial that I found that inspired me to create my own $10 Mont Blanc Rollerball.

Network Printer Issues with Windows Vista

So you bought that new laptop with Windows Vista, set it up, got on the Internet, downloaded some updates, checked YouTube for the latest video of someone miming a boy band song, and bumped your ex-girlfriend from your Top 8. Now you want to print something across your home network through a shared printer. That printer happens to be shared on a Windows XP machine. You never had a problem before, but this new laptop keeps sending you an error message: Windows cannot connect to the printer. Access is denied.

If you are like me, you begin troubleshooting to figure out what is going on and start by downing a caffeinated beverage. You check UAC, permissions, reinstall the printer, and finally REBOOT. None of your tactics worked.

After research and struggling with the same problem, here is what I have come up with. Give thanks to Melonhead on TechNet for inspiring my streamlined solution to this printer problem that will become an issue for many users. I recreated the scenario and 60% of the time the following solution works every time.

  • Install the Windows Vista printer driver on the new Windows Vista computer
  • Open Control Panel and double-click on Printers
  • Remove all of your previous attempts at adding the printer
  • Click on Add a printer and Choose to Add a local printer
  • Select Create a new port and Type of port: Local Port
  • Enter a port name (the port name is in the format of
    “{computer name}{printer name}”)

  • Verify installation by viewing the port settings in the printer properties window

Windows Vista Optimization

A few months ago I upgraded an older PC with Microsoft’s newest Operating System (OS) called Windows Vista (Home Premimum Edition). My older PC has 256MB of dedicated video memory, 1GB of RAM, and a 2.4GHz Intel Processor. Vista ran very sluggish and gets unresponsive with a few browsers tabs open and couple of programs running, so I became frustrated. There is something good found in everything, so I was dedicated to make this OS purr. The irony was that I was also contributing sections to a new Windows Vista Technician’s User Guide. The design applications to write my sections of the manual ran so slow on Vista, I had to figure it out. The following information applies to Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate editions.

Here are some ideas and tricks that I used to optimize Windows Vista:

  • Minimizing and Maximizing Windows
    Once you start using Vista, you will notice there is animation sequence that happens as you minimize and maximize a window or vice versa. It makes the transition look smooth but takes up 100% of your processor to accomplish the task. The animation has to process, allocate memory, execute it, and then the window reacts. This sluggish response to just moving between windows becomes annoying with just a few windows open. Stopping this animation will be the biggest noticeable change you can make.

    Follow these steps to stop the animation:

    1. Select the Start Button, enter “SystemPropertiesPerformance” into
      the Start Search Box, and press Enter
    2. On the Visual Effects tab, uncheck Animate Windows When Minimizing/Maximizing
    3. Select OK to apply the settings

  • Window Transparency
    The windows in Vista are transparent around the top edges to accomplish a 3D experience as you notice whats behind the window. The effect works and looks great although it takes up RAM and processing power to update the transparency effect as things change.

    Follow these steps to turn off window transparency:

    1. Right-click on the Desktop and select Personalize
    2. Select Windows Color And Appearance
    3. Uncheck Enable Transparency
    4. Select OK to apply the settings

  • Windows Vista Services
    There are services that run in the background that process data, user actions, and protect the stability of the PC. Some of these are just not needed. On a new install almost all of them are installed and running. You can safely stop some services that will free up system resources. Follow the procedures at your own risk and only disable services that you actually don’t need.

    Here are few services that you can safely disable:

    1. Windows Defender
    2. Tablet PC Input Service
    3. Telephony (if you are not using your dial-up modem)
    4. Parental Controls
    5. WLAN AutoConfig (if you are not using wireless)
    6. Routing and Remote Access

Follow these steps to disable a service:

    1. Select the Start Button, enter “Services” into the Start Search Box, and press Enter
    2. Right-click on a Service to disable and select Properties
    3. Under Startup Type, select Disabled
    4. Select OK to apply the settings