Piksey Atto

I was recently sent a Piksey Atto by it’s creators at BnBe club. The Atto is the Latest in their range of small Arduino IDE compatible micro-controllers. You can see the earlier Piksey Pico in my last post on the binary clock. The Atto is a real step down in size from the Pico measuring just 20 x 13mm. While there are other very small Arduino compatible micro-controllers they are often limited by choice of processor and / or connections. With the Atto the makers have opted to use the same processor as the Arduino Leonardo (ATmega32U4) this ensures good level of capability and importantly simple installation – no additional config or 3rd party drivers needed just select the Leonardo in the IDE.

To get as much IO as possible 3 sides are used for connections. The Atto has castellation holes making it flexible to use both on prototyping boards and PCBs.

To make access to the end connections a little simpler I made a small adapter board from bits I had to hand.

Communication with the Arduino IDE was as promised very straight forward and I had the usual blink example working without a problem – note, the Atto does not have an onboard LED so you have to connect to your own to see Blink working.

Next was to decide an application for the Atto. IOT applications are an obvious route given it’s size but I had recently seen Arduino Nano code for a mini Tetris game and so for a bit of fun thought this would show off the size of the Atto well and be a bit different. You can see the finished results below and the to the right.

I had to make a couple of changes to IO assignments in the s/w as the Leonardo uses different pins for I2C to the Nano, the only other job was ‘tuning’ the buttons. The Tetris game connects to the buttons via a single analog pin using dividing resistors to give a different analog reading for each key combination. I had not seen this before and although not strictly needed here is simple way to squeeze a bit more IO out when you are short. For more on this see the following link http://fritzing.org/projects/arduino-5-buttons-keypad .

All in all the Atto is useful addition to the range of Arduino compatible micro-controllers, for me using the Leonardo processor is great step up from the competition, taking away the need for extra 3rd party drivers. It’s size does mean a couple of compromises, no onboard power regulator (there is still an external 5V connection pin) and no LED but I am happy to take these given it’s small size.

Credit to Badfeed for the original Tetris code

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Lock Down Clocks

I seem to have got a little fixated on clocks over the last couple of months, but rather than go down a simple route I have tried to use parts I already had ‘in-stock’. For example this picture is of a binary clocking using some phosphor neon’s I had in a draw rather than led’s to indicated the time, but more of that later in the post.

My first lockdown clock build on the face of it is just a simple digital clock but rather than use a display with the driver built in I got the 8266 to do everything. Then to really mess things up I used a 8266 with not quite enough IO so added PIC programmed to act like a 2 to 4 line decoder for the digit selection. Then as the analog input line was still spare I added auto brightness control. The 8266 connects to the internet once a day to correct any time drift. The only cheat is the flashing colon, with no IO to left this it’s driven from a simple 2 transistor flip-flop.

Next back to green phosphor neon’s, I was having a bit of play with them to understand potential driver circuits for a nixie clock I am planning when I had the idea they would make a good indicators for a binary clock … This would also be an opportunity develop the clock elements for the planned nixie clock as the nixie tubes themselves were still on their way from Eastern Europe !

Again looking around for bits I had immediately available I landed on developing a ‘re-usable’ clock source design using an ESP01, building on the s/w I had used for the earlier digital clock. This outputs the ‘time’ once a second via the ESP01’s serial port as a simple text string. A bit of added complexity was to correct for summertime, again it is updated from an a NPT server once a day or manually via a push button. The serial time feed is read into a second micro-controller that sorts out the binary display. For this I used a Piksey Pico Arduino compatible uP that I had got a while before from a Kickstarter. These have the advantage of being smaller than a Nano but still have slightly more accessible IO.

In the process of testing the clock I did mange to destroy an ESP01 – they really do not run for long on 12V and one Piksey ( a lose wire touched the 115Vdc rail !), but you can see the finished results below. I think the indicators are a really pleasing green much more subtle that using these newfangled led things….

The video shows the start up sequence with the uppermost orange neon flashing until the wifi connects then you see the whole display update as the Piksey starts to get updates from the ESP.

The next plan is to put it in some form of display case to avoid accidental electric shocks !

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Pi Xmas Tree Forest Complete

Looking around I realized I have collected quite a lot of Pi Xmas trees over the years. Clearly setting them up individually would take quite a lot of Pi’s, but could I get them all working from a single Pi ?

It was immediately apparent some sort of fiddling would be needed as the Pi 3d tree on it’s own uses all the available IO !

Accepting this would be viewed from the front I was able to save a number of IO lines by ignoring the leds on the back of the 3d tree. This still left me short by about 8 lines so I added an MCP23017 I2C port expander to give to make up the difference.

As you can see the result is not pretty but it works, albeit with a little blue-tack and packing tape holding things together.

This was also an opportunity to use the RasPiO Breaboard Pi Bridge, with all the IO broken out in numerical order this really helped me keep my sanity.

Anyway happy Christmas from MeanderingPi

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GPIO Xmas Tree 2019 – Pimped

Having seen Andrew was launching a new tree this Christmas with the added twist of a bit of surface mount soldering I thought, yes this is a must for the 2019 decorations.

Then I thought this is calling out for a bit of Raspberry Pi pimping.

As supplied all the led’s as connected in parallel with a simple on off switch / battery. First I isolated the track connections then connected them to individual GPIO lines on a PiZero, which I mounted with couple of stand-offs on the back of the PCB frame.

Next is was just down to a bit of Python. After some experimenting I arrived at a pleasing random flicking effect. The trick here is that slow fades do not work because the PWM routines in Gpiozero are all software controlled so you get annoying flashes when Linux decides to go off and do something else.

The initial consumer review was nice but, there was a compliant that the flicking could get annoying so I re-purposed the on-off switch to select between flicking and static in s/w. Finally I added a further push to allow the Pi to be shutdown cleanly.

The s/w can be downloaded from my github – it is not thing of beauty but it works !

How the kit arrives

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Pi Test-bed Upgraded to fan Cooled Pi4

image-6.jpgMy Pi test-bed dates back to the first Pi I got 2012, upgraded with each new release of h/w. Other than the Pi the only other change in that time has to modify the mounting when Pi’s with mounting holes first arrived on the scene !

The room I work in gets very hot in summer so with all the discussions around how hot the new Pi4 gets I decided to add a DIY fan ‘hat’. I probably should have made this on the 3d printer but as I had some plain prototyping board to hand it seemed a good idea to show how a very cheap ‘no complicated tools needed solution’ could be made.

I started by cutting out a 65mm x 55mm rectangle of prototype board, using the Pi as a image-4.jpgtemplate I then marked out and drilled (with a 3mm bit) the 4 corner holes.

The fan I used came from ebay, it is a 12v 40mm PC fan costing about £2.50. Here I am running it from 5 volts, while this means it will run slowly it does have the advantage is that is effectively noiseless.

Next I marked out the positions of the fan mounts a main cut out. Lastly using the Pi as a template again marked out the cutout for the PI header.

Prototype board can easily crack, to reduce this risk I made sure the cutouts followed the  matrix hole positions and then used a 2mm drill to ‘extend’ extend them. I could have been a bit neater doing this but it worked out ok. Any ridges I carefully filed down with a needle file. The tip here is to make sure you support the board on a flat surface.

Lastly I mounted the fan on the board with four 2mm nuts & bolts. To attach the ‘fan hat’ to the Pi I used 10mm spacers from ‘stock’.Image-5

The fan came with a 2 pin connector that I connected directly to 5V and Gnd on the Pi header.

The fan does not seem to move much air but importantly it ensures a continuous ‘disturbed’ airflow over the main chips on the Pi. With a room ambient of around 25C the Pi processor temp sits at 44-45C (Pi lightly loaded), disconnecting the fan this went up to 65C within a few minutes.

With a bit of extra filing I could improve access to the header pins but as I mainly use this Pi for s/w development my need to access the header is limited.



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TEC-1 Computer Build Complete


Image-10Following a number soldering sessions during the week I finished the TEC-1D build over the weekend. The next stages was to check out the oscillator circuit and the keyboard circuit. The former as there was a warning that not all variants of the chip would work. the latter because I was re-using a chip I initially got about 40 years ago for simple computer I built out of discrete TTL. All was well with both so I inserted the remaining chips and powered up.

This went without a hitch with the monitor program running as expected. Next I mounted the TEC-1 on a slopping enclosure.

From here I spent a happy couple of hours running through  simple code examples from


Working boxed TEC-1D

the Talking Electronics Magazine.

Next I started to try a few things out on my own, the main difficultly here is that the information is all spread across 6 issues of the magazine including references to future material that I suspect was never published – the magazine only ran for 15 issues. to complicate things a little more there were at least 3 different monitor programs produced.

So my plan is to try and tees out the strands of information into a single list of functions and calls you can make from the monitor programs. I also need get an EPROM programmer so I can try out the last JMon monitor variant. but that is for the future. For now I am just enjoying playing with my new computer !


Boo the cat is very interested in Z80 machine code programming


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The TEC-1D Micro Computer


Tec-1-computerOver Christmas while randomly scrolling through my Twitter feed I saw some discussion about the TEC-1 computer. This is a single-board kit dating from the early80s based around the Z80. Instructions on how to build it were published in the computer Australian hobbyist electronics magazine Talking Electronics. The Magazine only ran for 15 issues which is a pity as it had the idea of giving away a blank PCBs for one of the projects featured with every issue and did not have any advertising!TalkingE iss 10 cover

Anyway digging around to find out a bit more about the TEC-1 I discovered that a retro computer club in Australia had got permission to reproduce the TEC-1 PCBs and that there were a few left on eBay. Also amazingly although the magazine only ran for a limited time Talking Electronics as a webshop for kits is still up and running and while the kit for the Tec 1 is no longer available you can download pdf’s of all the magazines. 

Given that the Z80 was my introduction to assembly language coding I decided this would be a great early 2019 project to tackle along side my other Raspberry Pi and Arduino activities. So a month or so later I have the bare board and have started to source the parts for it.

Scarily I have managed to find quite a number of the parts in my stocks of bits from long forgotten projects. The rest I have been able to find through eBay and people like Bitsbox.

Trying different switches

I am looking forward to start the build in earnest this week and hopefully post a blog update with some parts soldered on next weekend !

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Re-purposed PiMuxClock

IMG_1711It’s been a good while since I have posted any blog updates, no excuse just distracted by life in general. This is quick weekend project at my daughters request. Concerned that some of the plants in her student flat would struggle in the cooler weather she requested a temperature display. Looking around the options I remembered my first Kickstarter was also set up to display temperature along with time. So a quick hack to remove the time element, change the board mounted DS18B20 sensor to cabled version and add max / min logging and it’s ready to take down to her.

Using it with a Pi2B is a bit of overkill but I am gradually changing out existing projects to Pi3s so have a few ‘spare’ hanging around.


The hardest bit was stopping one of the cats helping – I just managed to apprehend Pinky as she ran off with an ESP8266 board which clearly looked like a mouse to her !

I’m guessing the next request will be to add some form of push notification, if the temperature drops to a certain point but that is for another day.

The code is available on my GitHub site if you are interested.


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6 Years of Pi – Then and Now

Ok so in addition to losing about 5st (31kg) over the last 6 years RaspberyPi’s have really reignited electronics as a hobby. So for a 6th birthday post I thought I would have a dig around and see what my oldest still ‘working’ project was. I remember I got 2 Pi B early on – one was used for a chicken water heating project and eventually suffering Chiltern-20131201-00348terminal water damage when the enclosure leaked  (to date this is the only Pi of in excess of 30 I have killed). So continuing the hunt I found the news reader Pi I built for my wife based around an article in one of the early Pi magazines. Amazingly it is still working. I plugged it into a monitor just to remember

new box screenwhat the old LX  GUI looked like!

news box

As you can see it’s warning us about Storm Emma.




Going on from the Pi’s  it’s worth recognizing that somewhere down the line I have gained a workable knowledge of :-

  • Python
  • Arduino’s that oddly I had never used before – thanks to the RasPiO® Duino for getting me into this.
  • BBC microbits

Oh yes and run 3 successful kick-starters.

This year things are a little quiet on maker front mainly because out of a shear madness I have signed up to run the London Marathon, training for which is taking up a lot of time a weekends. The charity I am raising money for is the MS Trust. I picked the MS Trust having heard about the support they gave the mother of a colleague. They are not a big charity, so sponsorship money raised through events like this is really important to them. The Trust focuses on helping people live well with MS, helping them to receive the best possible care and the highest quality information. Over 100,000 people in the UK as diagnosed with MS, which remains the most common cause of neurological disability in young adults. Because diagnosis is usually in their 20s and 30s, the impact on the individual and their family if life changing and life-long.

The link to my Virgin just giving page is https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DavidMSaul





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TF WordClock S/W Updated

IMG_2102Just a quick post to say I have updated the TF Wordclock s/w to rev 5, the existing rev 3 s/w was not working reliably with the Nov29 2017 Raspbian update, in truth it had been on borrowed time since early 2017 when there was a major change to the Max7219 library. This did not offer an upgrade path so the TF was stuck with using a depreciated version  of the library.

Luckily the library author, Richard Hull suggested a way I could implement required functionality with the updated library –  now called luma.led_matrix.

This has required quite an extensive change to the TF with English, French and Dutch Wordclock versions  now available – unfortunately Latin is not currently supported.

If you want / or need to move to the rev 5 code you should do this from a clean installation of Raspbain.

Staying with the rev 3 code this is fine but be careful not to do an apt-upgrade as you will almost certainly find your TF will stop working.

The Nano version is not affected by this change.

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