Astable Multivibrator: Red RGB Piranha

A red LED has a sufficiently low forward voltage to run with a MOSFET astable multivibrator and a pair of run-down AA alkaline cells:

Astable AA Alkaline - red
Astable AA Alkaline – red

The red LED is actually part of an RGB Piranha, just to see how it compares to an as-yet-unbuilt version with a single red LED in the same package.

The LED drops 1.9 V of the 2.75 V from the mostly used-up AA cells:

Astable Piranha Red - 2.75 alkaline - V LED
Astable Piranha Red – 2.75 alkaline – V LED

The original 33 Ω ballast resistor showed a peak current of 11 mA in a 30 ms pulse:

Astable Piranha Red - 2.75 alkaline - V 33 ohm
Astable Piranha Red – 2.75 alkaline – V 33 ohm

Replacing it with a 12 Ω resistor boosts the current all the way to 12 mA:

Astable Piranha Red - 2.75 alkaline - V 12 ohm
Astable Piranha Red – 2.75 alkaline – V 12 ohm

The 2N7000 gate sees a just bit more than 2 V, barely enough to get the poor thing conducting, which makes the ballast resistor mostly decorative. The MOSFET datasheet puts its 1 mA threshold somewhere between 0.8 and 3 V, so it could be worse.

Keep in mind the DSO150’s 1 MΩ input impedance sat in parallel with the 1 MΩ gate pulldown resistor forming the RC differentiator when I measured the gate voltage; I’ll leave the simulation as an exercise for the interested reader. The blinks were noticeably dimmer and perhaps a bit shorter, although eyeballometric calibration is notoriously hard.

The slightly revised schematic-layout doodle stacks the transistors along the negative bus bar:

Astable wiring layout - stacked 2N7000
Astable wiring layout – stacked 2N7000

Flipping the bottom transistor over to snuggle the two timing caps next to each other would eliminate the long jumper wire and probably look better.

Floor Lamp Rebasing

The torchiere floor lamp in the sewing room suffered a catastrophic failure:

Floor lamp - failed plastic base shell
Floor lamp – failed plastic base shell

Contrary to what you might think from seeing the shattered plastic base, we didn’t use the lamp as a club or battering ram. Apparently the designer expected the thin plastic surrounding the hole to withstand all the torque produced by the long pole against the cheap concrete / mortar / grout / whatever lump in the base. As we can recall, this lamp came to us from either a yard sale or a roadside debris harvest, so I suppose the hardware outlasted any reasonable expectation.

The Basement Laboratory Warehouse disgorged the pole and base from a similar lamp, albeit sporting black paint and a smaller rod connecting its pole to its somewhat larger weight. Not being too fussy about decor, I embiggened the hole in the black base to fit the white lamp’s threaded rod:

Floor lamp - enlarging replacement base
Floor lamp – enlarging replacement base

The dust on the base shows why you shouldn’t stand motionless in the Basement Laboratory for very long.

The alert reader will have noted the cord passing through a strain relief grommet in the white base. Rather than dismantle the entire lamp, I just cut the cord, ran it through the new base weight, reinstalled the washer + nut, then crimped on a pair of solderless connectors:

Floor lamp - cord splice
Floor lamp – cord splice

The new base doesn’t offer much in the way of attachment points, so I added a cable tie to keep the strain off the connectors:

Floor lamp - cord strain relief
Floor lamp – cord strain relief

A strip of genuine 3M duct tape with double-thick adhesive now traps the cord inside that small channel and, given that the lamps spends most of its time standing quietly in a corner, the cord should be fine for long enough.

KeyboardIO Atreus: RGB LED Firmware

Having wired a WS2812 RGB LED into my KeyboardIO Atreus, lighting it up requires some QMK firmware configuration. It’s easiest to set up a “new” keymap based on the QMK Atreus files, as described in the QMK startup doc:

qmk new-keymap -kb keyboardio/atreus -km ednisley

Obviously, you’ll pick a different keymap name than I did. All the files mentioned below will reside in the new subdirectory, which starts out with only a keymap.c file copied from the default layout.

The file enables RGB Lighting, as well as Auto Shift and Tap Dance:

AUTO_SHIFT_ENABLE = yes			# allow automagic shifting
TAP_DANCE_ENABLE = yes			# allow multi-tap keys

RGBLIGHT_ENABLE = yes			# addressable LEDs

If you had different hardware, you could specify the driver with a WS2812_DRIVER option.

QMK can also control single-color LEDs with PWM (a.k.a. backlighting), and per-key RGB LEDs (a.k.a. RGB Matrix). These functions, their configuration / controls / data, and their documentation overlap and intermingle to the extent that I spent most of my time figuring out what not to include.

Some configuration happens in the config.h file:

#define RGB_DI_PIN B2
#define RGBLED_NUM 1

//#define WS2812_TRST_US 280


#define NO_DEBUG
#define NO_PRINT

The first two lines describe a single WS2812 RGB LED wired to pin B2 (a.k.a. MOSI) of the Atmel 32U4 microcontroller. The default Reset duration and Byte Order values work for the LED I used

Protip: swapping the order from GRB to RGB is a quick way to discover if the firmware actually writes to the LED, even before you get anything else working: it’ll be red with the proper setting and green with the wrong one.

Dialing the maximum intensity down works well with a bright LED shining directly at your face from a foot away.

Turning on RGBLIGHT_LAYERS is what makes this whole thing happen. The RGBLIGHT_EFFECT_RGB_TEST option enables a simple test animation at the cost of a few hundred bytes of code space; remove that line after everything works.

The last two lines remove the debugging facilities; as always with microcontroller projects, there’s enough room for either your code or the debugger required to get it running, but not both.

With those files set up, the keymap.c file does the heavy lifting:

// Modified from the KeyboardIO layout
// Ed Nisley - KE4ZNU


enum layer_names {

// Tap Dance

enum {

qk_tap_dance_action_t tap_dance_actions[] = {

// Layer lighting

// Undefine this to enable simple test mode
// Also put #define RGBLIGHT_EFFECT_RGB_TEST in config.h

#define LED_LL

#ifdef LED_LL

const rgblight_segment_t PROGMEM ll_0[] = RGBLIGHT_LAYER_SEGMENTS( {0,1,HSV_WHITE} );
const rgblight_segment_t PROGMEM ll_1[] = RGBLIGHT_LAYER_SEGMENTS( {0,1,HSV_MAGENTA} );
const rgblight_segment_t PROGMEM ll_2[] = RGBLIGHT_LAYER_SEGMENTS( {0,1,HSV_CYAN} );
const rgblight_segment_t PROGMEM ll_3[] = RGBLIGHT_LAYER_SEGMENTS( {0,1,HSV_BLUE} );
const rgblight_segment_t PROGMEM ll_4[] = RGBLIGHT_LAYER_SEGMENTS( {0,1,HSV_GREEN} );
const rgblight_segment_t PROGMEM ll_5[] = RGBLIGHT_LAYER_SEGMENTS( {0,1,HSV_RED} );
const rgblight_segment_t PROGMEM ll_6[] = RGBLIGHT_LAYER_SEGMENTS( {0,1,HSV_YELLOW} );

const rgblight_segment_t* const PROGMEM ll_layers[] = RGBLIGHT_LAYERS_LIST(


void keyboard_post_init_user(void) {

#ifdef LED_LL
    rgblight_layers = ll_layers;
    rgblight_set_layer_state(0, 1);
//    rgblight_mode_noeeprom(RGBLIGHT_MODE_BREATHING + 3);


#ifdef LED_LL

layer_state_t layer_state_set_user(layer_state_t state) {
    for (uint8_t i=0 ; i < _NLAYERS; i++)
        rgblight_set_layer_state(i, layer_state_cmp(state, i));

    return state;

// Key maps

const uint16_t PROGMEM keymaps[][MATRIX_ROWS][MATRIX_COLS] = {
  [_BASE] = LAYOUT(                             // base layer for typing
    KC_Q,    KC_W,    KC_E,    KC_R,    KC_T,                      KC_Y,    KC_U,    KC_I,    KC_O,    KC_P    ,
    KC_A,    KC_S,    KC_D,    KC_F,    KC_G,                      KC_H,    KC_J,    KC_K,    KC_L,    KC_SCLN ,
    KC_Z,    KC_X,    KC_C,    KC_V,    KC_B,    KC_GRV,  KC_LALT, KC_N,    KC_M,    KC_COMM, KC_DOT,  KC_SLSH ,

  [_SHIFTS] = LAYOUT(                           // shifted chars and numpad
    KC_EXLM, KC_AT,   KC_UP,   KC_DLR,  KC_PERC,                  KC_PGUP, KC_7,    KC_8,   KC_9, KC_HOME,
    KC_LPRN, KC_LEFT, KC_DOWN, KC_RGHT, KC_RPRN,                  KC_PGDN, KC_4,    KC_5,   KC_6, KC_END,

  [_FUNCS] = LAYOUT(                            // function keys
    KC_INS,  KC_HOME, KC_UP,   KC_END,  KC_PGUP,                   KC_UP,   KC_F7,   KC_F8,   KC_F9,   KC_F10  ,
    KC_DEL,  KC_LEFT, KC_DOWN, KC_RGHT, KC_PGDN,                   KC_DOWN, KC_F4,   KC_F5,   KC_F6,   KC_F11  ,
    KC_NO,   KC_VOLU, KC_NO,   KC_NO,   RESET,   _______, _______, KC_NO,   KC_F1,   KC_F2,   KC_F3,   KC_F12  ,

Undefine LED_LL to enable the test mode, compile, flash, and the LED should cycle red / green / blue forever; you also need the RGB_TEST option in the config.h file.

Define LED_LL and layer lighting should then Just Work™, with the LED glowing:

  • White for the basic layer with all the letters
  • Magenta with the Fun key pressed
  • Cyan with the Esc key pressed

The key map code defines colors for layers that don’t yet exist, but it should get you started.

For convenience, I wadded all three QMK files into a GitHub Gist.

The LED is kinda subtle:

Atreus keyboard - LED installed
Atreus keyboard – LED installed

As you might expect, figuring all that out took much longer than for you to read about it, but now I have a chance of remembering what I did.

KeyboardIO Atreus: RGB LED Installation

Having scouted out the territory inside the KeyboardIO Atreus, adding an LED requires taking it completely apart to drill a hole in the aluminum faceplate:

Atreus keyboard - panel drilling
Atreus keyboard – panel drilling

Reattaching the plate to the PCB with only three screws allows marking the hole position on the PCB, which is much easier than pretending to derive the position from first principles:

Atreus keyboard - LED marking
Atreus keyboard – LED marking

Despite appearances, I traced the hole with a mechanical pencil: black graphite turns shiny silvery gray against matte black soldermask. Also, the PCB trace is off-center, not the hole.

Overlay the neighborhood with Kapton tape to protect the PCB from what comes next:

Atreus keyboard - Kapton tape

Snip a WS2812 RGB LED from a strip, stick it in place with eyeballometric alignment over the target, and wire it up:

Atreus keyboard - LED wiring
Atreus keyboard – LED wiring

Despite the terrible reliability of WS2812 RGB LEDs mounted on PCB carriers, a different set on a meter of high-density flex tape have worked reasonably well when not thermally stressed, so I’ll assume this one arrived in good order.

Aligning the LED directly under the hole required a few iterations:

Atreus keyboard - LED positioning
Atreus keyboard – LED positioning

The iridescent green patch is a diffraction pattern from the controller chip’s internal circuitry.

The data comes from MOSI, otherwise known as B2, down in the lower left corner:

Atmel 32U4 - JTAG pins
Atmel 32U4 – JTAG pins

Actually lighting the LED now becomes a simple matter of software QMK firmware.

Enover Outlet Timer: Over-powered Zener Diode

This being the season of lights, I deployed some outlet timers to turn them on at dusk and off at bedtime. The timers spend much of the rest of their lives plugged into outlets in the Basement Laboratory to keep their internal NiMH backup batteries charged, although they’re not controlling anything:

Enover outlet timer - overview
Enover outlet timer – overview

This one is labeled ENOVER, but it’s essentially identical to all the others sporting random alphabetic names; I have a few more labeled UKOKE in the same plastic case. The current crop uses a different case and has one fewer button, but don’t expect any real difference.

One of the timers had a blank display and didn’t respond to button pushes or a pin punch poked in the RESET hole, so I dismantled it to see what was inside.

Both the hot and neutral terminals had stray wire strands:

Enover outlet timer - stray wire strand
Enover outlet timer – stray wire strand

The power board had the usual missing components, suggesting it had been cheapnified after passing whatever regulatory inspection it might have endured to get a CE mark on its dataplate:

Enover outlet timer - power board - overview
Enover outlet timer – power board – overview

The alert reader may have already noticed the mmmmm smoking gun:

Enover outlet timer - scorched diode
Enover outlet timer – scorched diode

Incredibly, Z1 has a part number wrapped around it! A quick lookup shows a 1N4749A is a 24 V 1 W Zener diode, neatly matching the 24 V relay. The datasheet gives a 10.5 mA test current and a 38 mA maximum regulator current, with a caveat: “Valid provided that electrodes at a distance of 10mm from case are kept at ambient temperature”

The relay datasheet says 8.3 mA nominal coil current, a mere 200 mW, which is much easier to dissipate in wire wrapped around a steel core than in a little diode.

Evidently the poor diode ran rather hot before becoming a dead short, because a phenolic PCB (definitely not at ambient temperature) ought not discolor like that.

Indeed, measuring Z1 in another, still functional, Enover timer showed 25 V and a similarly discolored patch around Z1, suggesting the circuit design requires a bit more disspation from the diode than it can comfortably deliver.

I replaced it with a 1N970B from the Basement Laboratory Warehouse, rated for only 0.5 W in a seemingly identical case, buttoned the whole thing up, and left it in the middle of the concrete basement floor overnight. It wasn’t smoking and continued working in the morning, so I defined things to be no worse than before and declared victory.

Should when the next one fails the same way, I’ll epoxy a small heatsink to that poor diode and its leads to reduce its overall temperature.

For future reference, the underside of the PCB shows a distinct lack of post-soldering flux cleanup:

Enover outlet timer - power board - solder side
Enover outlet timer – power board – solder side

I swabbed it with denatured alcohol, although doing so certainly didn’t make any change to its behavior.

Memo to Self: no-clean flux is a thing.

It’s worth noting no other components show signs of overheating, despite the diode becoming a short circuit, so R1 (a big power resistor) is most likely the shunt regulator’s dropping resistor and can survive the additional power.

Should the diode fail open, the rest of the circuitry will be toast.

Astable Multivibrator: Amber LED

Adding an amber LED to the collection:

Astable AA - Amber - overview
Astable AA – Amber – overview

Because a yellow / amber LED runs at a lower voltage than blue and green LEDs, it sits atop an astable multivibrator, rather than a discrete LM3909. The battery holder has a pair of carbon-zinc “Extra-Heavy Duty” AAA cells, so corrosion and leakage pose a foreseeable hazard.

The voltage across the 100 Ω LED ballast indicates a 9 mA peak LED current, which is somewhat dim in ordinary room light:

Astable AA - Amber - LED current 100 ohm
Astable AA – Amber – LED current 100 ohm

The corresponding LED voltage says the LED runs at 2.1 V for that much current:

Astable AA - Amber - LED V
Astable AA – Amber – LED V

Something around 39 Ω should make it more visible.

Monthly Science: Batmax NP-BX1 Status

After powering my Sony HDR-AS30V helmet camera for nearly all of this year’s riding, the Batmax NP-BX1 lithium batteries still have roughly 90% of their original capacity:

Batmax NP-BX1 - 2020-11
Batmax NP-BX1 – 2020-11

Those are hot off the Official Batmax charger, which appears identical to other randomly named chargers available on Amazon.

They’re holding up much better after a riding season than the DOT-01 batteries I used two years ago:

Sony DOT-01 NP-BX1 - 2019-10-29
Sony DOT-01 NP-BX1 – 2019-10-29

Empirically, they power the camera for about 75 minutes, barely enough for our typical rides. I should top off the battery sitting in the camera unused for a few days, although that hasn’t happened yet.

Of course, the Batmax NP-BX1 batteries I might order early next year for the new riding season have little relation to the ones you see here.