It has been two years since my last blog post, and things have changed. The focus of my electronics hobby has shifted from collecting cheap parts and tools to designing my own PCBs with KiCad. I’m also considering turning it into something more than just a hobby, but let’s do this one step at a time.
When you’re in the habit of ordering a lot of items from China, you’ll quickly learn about the effects holidays have on delivery times. Two periods in particular stand out – the weeks leading up to Christmas, and the days surrounding Chinese New Year. Packages seem to disappear into a black hole, only to emerge weeks later.
I first ran into this issue in December 2014, after placing 6 separate orders with Banggood and a few eBay sellers. Instead of the usual 10-14 days, some items took as long as 5 weeks to get here. It’s pretty common for mail to be a few days late around the holidays anywhere in the world, but I didn’t expect having to wait this long. I’ll definitely make sure to avoid ordering anything during those periods this year. Now that everything has arrived, I can finally take a look at what I received in this combined mailbag post.
Up until now I’ve worked exclusively with through-hole components. While they’re great for fast prototyping, it’s becoming more difficult to find DIP versions of every part I need, especially for some of the more recently released devices (USB controllers, ARM-based MCUs). You may find a DIP package here and there, but the majority is only available in various surface-mount sizes. The only way for me to keep up is to learn how to solder surface-mount packages.
Over the past few months I’ve been gathering all the tools I need to move my soldering techniques to the next level. Last week I received the final parts on my list – a high-quality soldering station, iron tips for soldering surface-mount packages and a head-mounted magnifier. With everything ready for my first surface-mount experience, I grabbed one of my I2C EEPROMs and an adapter board, and gave it a try.
After several months of tinkering with the cheapest tools I could find, it’s time to move my electronics engineering hobby to a more serious level with some upgrades. These replacements still fall in the hobbyist price/quality category, but are definitely a step up from what I used to work with. As a Christmas present to myself, I upgraded my soldering iron, multimeter and magnifier, and converted a wooden shelf rack into a neat tool storage solution.
In my quest to organize the large amount of components piling up on my workbench, I’ve gone through dozens of Chinese websites and eBay listings in search of the perfect storage cabinets. What I came across was either perfect but too expensive, or low cost but mediocre quality. Surprisingly I ended up finding what I was looking for at an unlikely place for cheap stuff – Farnell element14.
This mailbag has something for everyone. A nice case for my Arduino Uno R3, new stackable headers for my Raspberry Pi B+, and radio modules for my alarm clock project.
Today’s mail is a pretty mixed bag, which came from several different eBay sellers, consisting of LEDs, SO to DIP adapter boards, tactile switch caps, a distance sensor and a flux pen. I ordered these items during my initial 2-month long buying spree with the primary goal of getting all of the basics, and sampling any interesting sensors and gadgets I came across.
I have a spare room I’m not using for anything meaningful. With the tools and components piling up in my living room and office area, I decided it was time for a separate home electronics lab and move everything in there. I’ve never set one of these up before, but it sounds logical to start with the basics: a desk, and a chair. I received my IKEA shipment yesterday, and after a bit of assembly without any leftover parts this was the result.
Today’s mailbag is slightly out of order. I still haven’t caught up with all the mail I received over the last few months, but it feels wrong to keep the new shipments lying around for so long. I think I’ll just intersperse the pile of waiting mailbags with these newly arrived ones to keep things more current.
This is another mailbag from Tayda Electronics, one of my favorite cheap electronics companies from Thailand. The best thing about Tayda, besides their low prices, is their packing method. Each component type comes in its own labeled plastic bag. All of the smaller bags are combined in a larger plastic bag, and shipped in a padded envelope. My Tayda orders are a great source of spare bags and bubblewrap.
For months my poor Raspberry Pi B+ had to sit on my desk without a case. Naked, slipping around on the glass surface and in danger of being smothered by a layer of dust. No longer! I finally found the perfect case, or as close to perfect as I could get for only $5.