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Topic: A quote from Woz. Do you agree or disagree, and why? (Read 219 times) previous topic - next topic

JoeN

"Today, it's really hard to hand-build tech equipment because it just keeps getting smaller and smaller," Wozniak said.
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Context: http://money.cnn.com/2014/11/10/technology/mobile/steve-wozniak/index.html

I mean, I get where he is coming from.  There are some tiny ass parts.  But they can be all be soldered if you have the skill or at least a good reflow oven.  And there are certainly a lot of highly integrated parts under NDA, and that is a problem.  But overall, is this true?  You have access to most of the parts major manufacturers do and can, at a price, have some very tight boards laid out.  It requires a lot of skill and time to do a substantial project, for sure, but I think substantial projects can still be done by single hobbyists.
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weedpharma

I agree. My eyes are not what they used to be so I now need a Maggylamp for even basic non miniaturised components.

Many of the familiar components are now being replaced by SMD.

Weedpharma

dannable

Hand build? Yes, but I think that, as we are seeing with 3D printers, there will be a growth in hobby pick 'n' place machines. So we will still build things at home.
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cr0sh

Hand build? Yes, but I think that, as we are seeing with 3D printers, there will be a growth in hobby pick 'n' place machines. So we will still build things at home.
...and ultimately we will need pick-n-place machines to do the job, and some of those SMT parts are difficult or impossible to put in place by hand.

But this still leaves some parts out of reach to an extent - like BGA devices. While it is possible to place, orient, and align such a part on a PCB - with the proper reflow equipment - what isn't possible is knowing (before applying power) if all of the "pins" have actually been connected via solder on the PCB. IIRC, in the industry this is verified using some sort of automated x-ray equipment that can image the board from the bottom and "see" good vs bad solder joints. Such tech isn't likely to ever be available for home use (home-based x-ray equipment sold OTC? Right...).

So - I get where Woz is coming from, and I see that on one level he is "wrong", but on another he is "right". Also - and thinking about his involvement with children's tech education - he is very right when it comes to teaching kids about electronics - SMT stuff can certainly be worked with as an adult or an astute teenager (and probably younger - having steady hands can be useful) - but for children it would be near impossible.

That said, I can again see a time period in the future where it might be possible to have all of this tech in a single unit, and the unit assembled the entire board from scratch, perhaps even based on some kind of graphical coding language and/or schematic or other advanced GEDA system (provided you stock the machine with the right parts and materials of course). But that time isn't today, and it isn't likely to be any time soon, either.
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JoeN

But this still leaves some parts out of reach to an extent - like BGA devices. While it is possible to place, orient, and align such a part on a PCB - with the proper reflow equipment - what isn't possible is knowing (before applying power) if all of the "pins" have actually been connected via solder on the PCB.
I get that, but is it really a show stopper?  I have mounted BGA parts with a hot air gun and gotten them to work.  You can use JTAG to verify it.   You can think out other ways to verify the BGA part too.  Certainly, you can't JTAG or roll-your-own JTAG it before applying power so you probably want to bring it up with a current limiter in case a ground and a power pin is shorted, but most other pins should not matter much.  It depends on the device, but most FPGAs and microcontrollers default pins to high impedance inputs or non-committed pins so a short there should not matter (in the sense of destroying the part, you will still have to remount it, of course)..  You should be able to design it such that you take worst-case issues into account if something is shorted, detect it quickly, and work it out.  This would be a show stopper for production work, but it is in fact exactly how hobbyists build projects.  The fact that it is inefficient or there are temporary issues that need to be ironed out doesn't matter for a hobby project, just the finished prototype.  At that point, if it all works and you actually end up selling it, it will be manufactured in a more professional manner anyway.
I have only come here seeking knowledge. Things they would not teach me of in college.

SirNickity

I disagree strongly.  For one, TH isn't dead yet.  Let's not plan the funeral too early.

But, SMD isn't nearly as bad as you might think if you haven't ever tried it.  The first roll of 0805 parts I bought looked impossibly small, but the very first board I built using them worked fine -- and that was assembled with a soldering iron.

The real advantage is the ubiquitous availability of professional tools and services.  In the early 90s, I watched my older brother make PCBs with a Sharpie, decals, and a dish of etchant bought from RadioShack.  The results were horrible, but sometimes things worked.  Now, I can design down to 6 mil with accuracy down to fractions of a milimeter, send the file to a fab house, and get a 4-layer board with silkscreen and solder mask and stencil within a couple weeks, for less than a hundred bucks.  Not only that, I also have access to USB microscopes, finely machined tweezers, and inexpensive temperature-controlled soldering irons, hot air rework stations, and thermal ovens.  And, my board is more likely to actually work because I can simulate the hardware design before I even buy the parts, and upload new code to a processor more powerful than 80s computers, with nothing more than a $30 cable.

Did you have all that, Woz?  From my point of view, it's a GREAT time to be a hobbyist.

Now, the primary roadblock to home tinkering are all the patents and DRM preventing any of us from making or doing anything without potentially running into a legal roadblock somewhere...

JoeN

But, SMD isn't nearly as bad as you might think if you haven't ever tried it.  The first roll of 0805 parts I bought looked impossibly small, but the very first board I built using them worked fine -- and that was assembled with a soldering iron.
This has been my experience.  Maybe it's just that my hands don't shake and my eyes have not gone bad yet.  I've soldered QFP-240 .5mm with no problems, QFP-144 .4mm with no problems, QFN-64 .5mm using air, and an ATMEGA48A BGA-32 with hot air also.  I'm sure I can do bigger BGAs with an oven, I just haven't tried.  You can have boards made of any complexity, and number of layers, more or less, depending on what you can spend.  The problem is more knowledge and understanding what parts to use, what the capabilities of these very complex parts are, and how to program them, and being a jack of all trades.  You have to be the hardware guy, the software guy, the VHDL guy, the PCB layout guy, the assembly guy.  It's probably a team of one.  That's the hard part, not that they parts are all SMT and have fine pitches.  IMHO.

Did you have all that, Woz?  From my point of view, it's a GREAT time to be a hobbyist.
Actually, in iWoz he describes having access to his lab at HP with respect to the engineering tools.  However, he didn't have any computer time and ended up writing both the original ROM monitor and BASIC interpreter directly in machine code hex for lack of an assembler.  That had to hurt.  But now a hobbyist can have a lab far superior to what Woz had in 1976/7 on a budget of about a grand - bench power supply ($100), oscilloscope ($400), multimeter ($100), logic probe ($20), logic analyzer ($100), USB microscope ($80), cheap function generator ($100), Atmel programmer ($40), PIC programmer ($40), clone Altera programmer ($30).  That would be a good start if you already had a computer.
I have only come here seeking knowledge. Things they would not teach me of in college.

westfw

Quote
But they can be all be soldered if you have the skill or at least a good reflow oven.
I look into making a DIP adaptor for one of Freescale chip-scale 20pin BGA packages (0.5mm ball pitch.)
I don't think it can be done for reasonable cost.  You're talking a least 4-layer PCB, using via/microvias and line widths  that exceed the capabilities of the "inexpensive" PCB vendors (OSHPark/Seeed/Itead.)  (I did have some 0.4mm pitch DIL converters that look like they came out OK.  I haven't tried to put the SiLego chips on them, yet...)
And things get harder as pin-count goes up too.  28pin SSOP or 64pin LQFPs aren't impossible (I guess), but when you start looking at 208pin LWFPs or 1176pin BGAs...

(and of course, even the doable stuff assumes that you can get professionally made PCBs, have "real" soldering equipment, and etc.  Woz probably built stuff with a $10 Ungar soldering pencil, on single-sided boards drawn free-hand with s sharpie, etched in his kitchen.  THAT class  of construction is gone, and it's a bit sad.)

(On the third hand, the "obsolete" through-hole and large-pitch components you can get for pennies these days exceed the capabilities of the chips Woz had access to in those days...)


wizdum

I think he may be referring to the size of electronics overall, and not the difficulty of soldering SMD parts. For example, it would be really difficult for a hobbyist to make something the size of an iPhone. Tons of R&D goes into not only the design of the boards, but also the custom made connectors and engineered supports for the case itself.
"Anyone who isn't confused really doesn't understand the situation."

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SirNickity

As in, lamenting that garage start-ups can't compete with products being delivered by the mega-corps?  That could be, although you can get darn close.  Sure, it's hard to solder BGA -- but it's not impossible.  The web is full of crazy people doing all kinds of novel and wonderful things that shouldn't be possible at the hobbyist level.

In his day, they were constantly under pressure from the limits of the tools and hardware -- clock speeds and RAM are good examples.  Today, that's not such a problem, but you do have to consider tight physical tolerances, signal integrity at high speeds, and things like that.  Thankfully, there are many models and tools available to help.  It's really only a different set of challenges.

Woz and Jobs are relevant today because they found ways to overcome the difficulties of their time, and coupled that with vision and business sense.  I don't see that it's any different now.  I don't feel at all hindered -- the sky's my limit.

To me, it sounds like what Woz is really saying is: "Boy, if I had to start over now, I'd be too tired to bother."  Fair enough, he's more than earned his rest.

Graynomad

I grew up (electronically) in the 80s, great times in many ways but not even a small company could afford an ICE. Logic analysers? forget it, maybe 10% of the cost of a house. Relatively simple projects had PCBs 12" square with 50 ICs. And to get a real PCB made as a hobbyist, if you were lucky and worked in the industry you might be able to sneak your design onto a work panel. Otherwise dip-n-dunk in vats of foul liquids for a crap result. And designing that PCB required light tables, film, Bishop tape, stencils, photography costs, days of work. Code download, try burning EPROMs and erasing them under UV light, or buy an EPROM emulator for about 1% of the cost of a house. Then there was data sheets, tons (probably literally) of data books on a shelf that took up an entire wall. Scopes, 2-channel 15MHz if you were lucky, 100Mhz with storage the thing of dreams owned by large companies. NO support from the web (because there was no web) or indeed anywhere else. Don't ask on a forum, figure it all out for yourself.

That was then and now is now.

ICE is built into most chips and free, logic analysers can be bought for the price of a cheap lunch, huge processing and IO power in a single $5 chip, PCB fab for $20 (multiple boards), free or very cheap PCB CAD software, data sheets for every chip known to man just seconds away, 50MHz 4-channel storage scopes for $400, (usually) very good support from any number of forums and vendor email help.

Yes the components are smaller (often too small), and I do I miss my 2MHz Z80 with 20 support chips, but this is a great time to be tinkering with electronics, a veritable golden age.

(did I forget something :) )

______
Rob
Rob Gray aka the GRAYnomad www.robgray.com

TomGeorge

Hi, Rob, memories, like the corners of my mind.
Z80 still have an evaluation board, must post a pic.
Still have some Bishop Tape around somewhere.
LM or UA 555, LM or UA 741
BWD CRO, Powersupplies (Australian Made)
TRIO CRO, mounted on its own trolley.
FET front end analogue meters
Used stacks of vero and matrix boards.
Metallurgy Dept at Uni had the only VIDEO TAPE recorder on campus, REEL to REEL, but portable. Philips BlackandWhite.
Overhead Projectors.
Apeco photocopiers, your copy smelt of kerosene and weight two or three times the wieght of the original.

Tom....Ahhhh those were the days.... :)
Everything runs on smoke, let the smoke out, it stops running......VK3DMK

bobcousins

What does Woz do nowadays? Sadly, he is seriously out of touch.

Things have changed a lot, some components have got smaller, those are true, but overall the possibilities for hobbyists and tinkerers are orders of magnitude better than 30 years ago.

To be fair, Apple have also changed a lot since their inception. They are now a corporate giant selling closed products to passive consumers. The latest iPhone provides little opportunities for tinkering.

Really, Woz's comment says more about the corporate path of Apple than anything else.
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TomGeorge

Hi, I was doing a job in my garage tonight as I packed tools away, I thought I'd look for Z80 Evaluation Board.
Yay, I found it .
Find attached some pics, sorry about the quality, got to clean the mobile phone out, didn't realize how much dust got into it out on a job last week.
Have to give the board a good clean too.
Will get the good camera out over week end. 
I turned it on, 5V rail came up, 5mV ripple so power supply OK.
Display didn't do anything, but I think that is standard with no program, got to find the Z80 book and put an example it to see if it will run.

Tom...... :)
Everything runs on smoke, let the smoke out, it stops running......VK3DMK

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